Protecting Victims: The Only Way to End Human Trafficking

FeaturedProtecting Victims: The Only Way to End Human Trafficking

This past August 8th, several black SUVs sped into Christensen Farms in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, blocking the entrances. As the car doors opened, dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents emerged and surrounded the offices. It was the culmination of a 15-month long investigation and they’d come to arrest people suspected of a criminal conspiracy to hire and exploit undocumented immigrants.

That day, similar scenes played out at other farms and businesses across Nebraska, Minnesota, and Nevada. In total, 17 business owners were arrested. According to the ICE press release, the alleged ring of conspirators knowingly hired immigrants who did not have documentation and then exploited those individuals through coercive measures. More specifically, the owners allegedly forced these workers to cash their paychecks for a fee at illegal businesses, deducted taxes from their paychecks without actually paying those taxes to the government, and coerced the workers into staying silent through use of force and threats of arrest and deportation.

The ICE press release never mentions it, but federal law has a name for this crime: human trafficking.

On its face, it seems like this operation should have given The Advocates and other organizations working to end human trafficking a cause to celebrate. Unfortunately, it didn’t. That’s because these 17 arrests were accompanied by another 133; in addition to arresting the perpetrators of the crime, ICE also arrested the victims.

In other words, even though the people in question had suffered this abuse, and even though there are federal laws in place specifically designed to protect victims of human trafficking, ICE continued to pursue the Trump administration’s tenacious mission to deport all “illegal aliens.” Instead of help and compassion, these victims were met with detention and the looming threat of deportation, and were painted as identity thieves.

From a humanitarian perspective, this type of treatment is certainly shocking and clearly the wrong move. The fact that these are victims of human trafficking, however, makes this heartless response not only cruel but also counterproductive.

While they were still working on the farms, these individuals were kept from leaving or reporting the exploitative situation by the owners’ threats: do anything to stop us and you’ll be arrested and deported. When they arrested these victims and charged them with deportability, ICE followed through on the perpetrators’ threats.

As highlighted in The Advocates’ soon-to-be-released protocol on effective responses to labor trafficking, this type of response sends a message to other trafficking victims that the law is not there to protect them, but rather stands on the side of the traffickers. Ultimately, instead of feeling empowered to speak out, other victims will be even more likely to keep silent and continue to live, work, and suffer in fear. This end result is precisely why the federal protections for trafficking victims were created and why following them is essential to ending this modern form of slavery.

Put another way, rather than helping to end human trafficking in the United States, ICE’s actions ensure that it will continue. One thing is clear: if our country wants to deal effectively with this severe human rights violation, ICE needs to drastically change its approach.

By Rachel Adler, Research, Education, and Advocacy Intern at The Advocates for Human Rights

Sources:

Beck, Margery A. “Immigration Raids in Nebraska, Minnesota Target Businesses.” Star Tribune. August 9, 2018. http://www.startribune.com/immigration-raids-in-nebraska-minnesota-target-businesses/490389421/

Boldan, Kelly. “ICE Raids Target Businesses in Minnesota, Nebraska, Appleton Facility is among Christensen Farm Locations Raided.” West Central Tribune. August 8, 2018. http://wctrib.com/business/agriculture/4483330-ice-raids-target-businesses-minnesota-nebraska-appleton-facility-among

Planos, Josh. “ICE Executes Federal Search Warrants in Nebraska, Minnesota, Nevada.” KETV. August 9, 2018. https://www.ketv.com/article/immigration-raid-underway-in-oneill/22676364

Smith, Mary Lynn and Stephen Montemayor. “Big Minnesota Pork Producer ‘Surprised’ by Immigration Raids.” Star Tribune. August 10, 2018. http://www.startribune.com/more-than-130-arrested-in-immigration-raids-in-minnesota-nebraska/490470901/

United States, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “ICE Executes Federal Search Warrants in Nebraska, Minnesota and Nevada.” August 8, 2018. https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-executes-federal-search-warrants-nebraska-minnesota-and-nevada

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Human Rights Education in the U.S. is About to Get a Boost

FeaturedHuman Rights Education in the U.S. is About to Get a Boost

Within the next two years, Massachusetts K-12 students will delve more deeply into the ins-and-outs of international human rights in their history and social studies classrooms. New readings and lesson plans will focus on international human rights treaties, cover a variety of human rights movements both inside and outside the United States, and include more comprehensive discussions on the topic of discrimination. Students will be exposed to human rights concepts from the earliest grades, with the material gradually increasing in complexity through high school.

This is thanks in part to a new initiative on the part of The Advocates for Human Rights and our partner Human Rights Educators USA (HRE USA) that seeks to improve human rights education in schools across the country. To this end, with the help of a team of dedicated volunteers, we evaluated how each state’s social studies standards handle the subject of human rights. Alongside this, we gathered information on when those standards will be updated and how the public can provide input on changes, so that we could act on our findings. First up was Massachusetts. We reviewed their proposed social studies standards and submitted our feedback. Happily, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education took our comments to heart. The end result is a curriculum that invests additional time and energy into teaching human rights.

These changes are about much more than facts and figures. Human rights education significantly impacts the life of each individual child. When they understand what their and others’ rights are, children can more easily identify human rights violations and take action accordingly. Even at a young age, they can begin to tackle issues like prejudice and inequality and become more aware of what’s going on around them. Research confirms this. In schools that instituted human rights programming, students developed an ability to analyze their lives through the prism of human rights, were more motivated toward action, and had a deeper appreciation of diversity and inclusion. [1] [2]

Introducing this type of material during these formative years may also increase children’s social awareness. Schools that incorporated human rights education reported that students showed an increase in tolerance, empathy, and respect. Bullying decreased and students exhibited more respectful behavior toward both their teachers and other students. Additionally, students became more engaged in their schoolwork and felt increased confidence in their academic ability. [3] [4]

Equally as important is the impact human rights education at the K-12 level can have on our country’s future. Imbuing our children with a meaningful and deep understanding of these topics is essential if we want to build a culture where human rights are respected. Imagine a world where all of the refugees at our border were treated with dignity, where everyone had access to sufficient food and housing, where racial and gender equality gaps had closed, and where the prison population was small and treated with dignity. This may sound utopian but the more we teach today’s children to see human rights as vital, the more such a world becomes a possible future, since tomorrow’s leaders will be more likely to prioritize human rights.

Unfortunately, in spite of these many benefits, our review process of existing state social studies standards revealed that most states provide little human rights education and eight states do not cover the subject at all. This means that even when teachers see the value of human rights education, there’s little they can do since they must cover state guidelines and standards before adding optional content like human rights. In Massachusetts, those very standards now give more weight to human rights education, ensuring that children will engage with this powerful topic. States with upcoming review periods include North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. We look forward to achieving similar results in these states and others as we continue to engage in this process.

A huge thank you to all of the talented volunteers who helped to make this a reality. We couldn’t accomplish this without you!

By Rachel Adler, Research, Education, and Advocacy Intern at The Advocates for Human Rights

[1] Bajaj, M. (2011) Teaching to Transform, Transforming to Teach: Exploring the Role of Teachers in Human Rights Education in India, Educational Research, 53 (2), 207-221,

[2] Sebba, J. and Robinson, C. (2010) Evaluation of UNICEF UK’s Rights Respecting School Award. London: UNICEF UK.

[3] Covell, K. (2010) School Engagement and Rights-Respecting Schools, Cambridge Journal of Education, 40 (1) 39-51

[4] Tibbits, F. (2010) Impact Assessment of the Rights Education Action Programme (REAP). Final Report Submitted to Amnesty International Norway. HREA.

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Remembering Our Friend and Advocate, Arvonne Fraser

Arvonne Fraser 2012

“I was ready for the new women’s movement when it emerged and turned my talents and experience to it. Defying expectations, taking risks, and seeking what I could do beyond near horizons became my sport…It’s thrilling to imagine the possibilities that await my grandchildren—and you readers. This is my story. I wrote it to encourage other women to live fully and write theirs.” – Arvonne Fraser (from her memoir entitled “She’s No Lady”)
 

The human rights world has lost a giant. Arvonne Fraser inspired women’s human rights activists across the globe. She encouraged multiple generations of women to find their voices to make their lives better and improve the world. She helped develop international standards for the protection of women and was a tireless advocate herself. In addition to work on international human rights, Arvonne leaves a long legacy in many different arenas, including government, academia, and nonprofit.

She and her husband, Don, influenced our work at The Advocates for Human Rights from the very beginning.  In their honor, the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award is presented annually to an outstanding individual or organization promoting human rights. Arvonne’s legacy will live on through the many human rights activists she influenced, both in Minnesota and around the world. This year’s awardee, Jane Connors, spoke of the immense importance of her work in realizing the implementation of the human rights of women through the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

“It is hard to overstate Arvonne’s impact. I have met people from the far corners of the world who when they learned I was from Minnesota, told me wonderful stories about how Arvonne has influenced them in their work,” states Robin Phillips, Executive Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.

We will miss Arvonne dearly.

Read the Star Tribune article about Arvonne.

The Government is Dragging Us Back Decades in the Protection of Women’s Human Rights

FeaturedThe Government is Dragging Us Back Decades in the Protection of Women’s Human Rights

In my 25 years as a human rights advocate, I have learned that it is very difficult to be female in many parts of the world.  In spite of this reality, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is dragging us back decades in the protection of women’s human rights. His recent rejection of the decision in the Matter of A-B shows a callous disregard for the lived experiences of women.

In many countries, girls are aborted or killed as infants solely because they are female. Some die during traditional rituals such as female genital mutilation. Other girls are married off as children, trafficked for sex, or sold as domestic servants. As adults, women face violence in their homes, the streets, or at the hands of their governments. Some women are prohibited from doing certain kinds of work by archaic labor laws developed based on stereotypes and prejudices about women. Others endure harassment and demeaning work conditions just to make a living.

It took the United Nations more than 45 years to acknowledge women’s rights as human rights and violence against women as a human rights violation. It long ago acknowledged that governments are accountable for the human rights they commit as well as those they systematically fail to prevent. Kofi Annan identified violence against women as the most widespread human rights abuse in the world. Governments around the world have slowly been adopting laws to address violence, but we see enormous difficulties in properly implementing laws to provide adequate protections.

This new recognition that legal protections should reflect the experiences of women was slowly being reflected in refugee and asylum law in the United States. Over the past two decades we have seen the definition of social group, an identified group who should be protected from persecution, extended to victims of domestic violence when their government cannot or will not protect them. These life-saving developments recognized that previous interpretations of the l aw ignored these human rights abuses against women.  Domestic violence is not a family matter, it is a global epidemic and the stakes could not be higher.

Another thing I learned is that governments around the world are failing women. I have heard countless stories over the years about women calling the police or presenting themselves to prosecutors seeking protection from abusive spouses. They are taunted, ignored, and turned away. We have seen some improvement in laws and practices, but they have not stemmed the tide of abuse and women are still being injured and killed at alarming rates.  In some cases, women are ignored because their husbands are police officers, military or high ranking government officials. In other cases, the women are just not believed.

I remember one particularly compelling interview when I first started doing this work. A beautiful young woman in prison in Albania told me about the violence and abuse she experienced at the hands of her husband. He bruised her, broke her bones and made her bleed until she fainted. She tried over and over again to get help from the police and the prosecutors and was routinely turned away and told it was a family matter. After a particularly brutal beating that left her unconscious, she woke to the sight of her husband preparing to sexually assault their daughter. She leapt to her daughter’s defense, attacking her husband. He died as a result of the injuries. She was prosecuted and sentenced to prison for the man’s death. This woman, repeatedly failed by her own government, would not be provided asylum by our government today if Jeff Sessions has his way. It is up to all of us to make sure he doesn’t.

Robin Phillips is the executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights. She is an attorney and has written extensively about human rights, including trafficking in women, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.

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“Go Home & Work It Out With Your Husband”: Why Sessions’ Ruling On Asylum Is So Devastating for Women Fleeing Domestic Violence

Woman covering face with handSome years ago, before the United States recognized that domestic violence was grounds for asylum, I represented a woman who was seeking asylum due to years of brutal violence inflicted upon her by her husband and the failure of her government to protect her.

“Ann” was a successful business person from East Africa who had experienced sexual, physical, psychological and emotional violence so extreme that she went to the police for help. Their response?

“Sorry, but this is a family matter – not a police matter. You have children. Go home and work it out with your husband. It will be better for all of you.”

So she went home. Her husband beat her until she passed out from the pain and blood loss as punishment for going to the police.

Because her business was so successful, she had the chance to expand the business to a neighboring country. She took the kids and moved, leaving no forwarding address. But he eventually found her there and, with support from the police, strongly “encouraged” her to move back to her country with the children. His family, as well as hers, also put pressure on her to stay in the marriage.

I met Ann because her husband was studying in the U.S. The beatings had intensified after the family moved here and she had called The Advocates for help. We had to meet to prepare the asylum application, but her husband, wary of her meeting with Americans, controlled where she went. We found surreptitious meeting places like the coffee shop near the daycare center so he would not suspect.

Perhaps others are not familiar with how much work goes into preparing a case for asylum in the United States. Asylum seekers must show, through both credible testimony and documentary evidence, that 1) they have a well-founded fear of persecution; 2) on the basis of political opinion, race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group; and 3) their government cannot or will not protect them. It is not an easy thing to do, to fit all the facts of your life and your fear into the narrow frame of U.S. asylum law (which is, in fact, U.S. implementation of our obligations under the International Refugee Convention).

As we were getting close to filing her application, Ann asked me to meet her in front the building where she was taking a class. I picked her up there once or twice, no problem, and we went to the library to work on her affidavit. But when I pulled up the next time, she was standing in front of the building holding her baby and looking nervous.  She made eye contact and shook her head.

“No,” she mouthed.  “Go.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man coming towards her. My overall impression was a fast-moving blur of anger and intimidation.  I looked away from Ann and hit the accelerator. I couldn’t speed off – I was a human rights lawyer working for a nonprofit and my old car had zero acceleration – so I could see from her expression that it would do more harm than good if I stopped and tried to help.

I still am a human rights lawyer working for a nonprofit and I still drive an old car with zero acceleration.  Every once in a while, when I look in the rearview mirror, I think of Ann and remember that day. The sight of him yelling at her, fist raised… this is the closest I have ever come to witnessing domestic violence and it is the closest that I ever hope to be.  I waited on pins and needles until she called me late that night after he fell asleep. He had beaten her again but she was still alive.

We filed her asylum application not long after. She testified truthfully and credibly at her interview about the persecution she suffered, how she tried to leave but he tracked her down in another country, and about her government’s unwillingness to protect her from harm. The Asylum Officer asked the question that many people unfamiliar with the power and control dynamics of domestic violence ask victims: “Why do you stay with him if he beats you?”

Her answer was simple.

“Because I have tried to leave and he always finds me and brings me back. Then the beatings get worse. I am afraid every day that he will kill me. Then what will happen to my children?”

The day Ann was granted asylum, she took the children and left to begin a new life in safety and dignity as an American.

Ann was not the first domestic violence victim granted asylum in the U.S. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, an increasing number of adjudicators granted asylum to individuals fleeing persecution by non-State actors that the government was unable or unwilling to control.  These were cases of individuals fleeing domestic violence, traditional harmful practices like FGM, and violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  In 2014, the federal Board of Immigration Appeals issued a precedential decision (Matter of A-R-C-G-) that people like Ann could be granted asylum based on persecution on account of a particular social group.

Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions has overturned that ruling and years of jurisprudence by announcing that victims of domestic violence and other persecution by private actors “generally” do not qualify for asylum. The attorney general announced his decision in Matter of A-B-, a case in which he invoked a rarely used power to personally intervene and certify to himself for reconsideration after the Board of Immigration Appeals reversed and remanded to the immigration judge with an order to grant asylum. The case concerns a woman from El Salvador who fled 15 years of sexual, physical, psychological and emotional violence that her government failed to protect her from.

What I would like my fellow Americans to know is this:

International law recognizes that asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection.

The international refugee protection system was set up as a result of the horrors of World War II, when Jewish refugees attempted to flee and were returned to Nazi death camps.

When people present themselves at the U.S. border and ask for asylum, they are not breaking the law. They are acting lawfully. They are following the process established by federal statute. They are exercising their fundamental human right to seek asylum from persecution.

The attorney general is by fiat attempting to return U.S. asylum law to a time when domestic violence was seen as a “family matter.” This is only the latest salvo in the administration’s all-out war against refugees and asylum seekers. It is connected to the “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy and should be seen in that context.

From a global perspective, Sessions’ move is in line with efforts in Russia and other countries around the world to undermine protections against domestic violence. I recently traveled to Moldova to train women’s human rights defenders who have seen the rising tide of “family values” throughout Russia, former Soviet republics, and Eastern Europe, as laws are passed decriminalizing domestic violence.

My client Ann was granted asylum on the basis of her social group of women from her country who have experienced extreme sexual, physical and emotional domestic violence, (which the UN Committee against Torture recognizes as “torture”), who are unable to escape their abuser and who the government is unable or unwilling to protect. It was only due to the permanent legal status she gained through the U.S. asylum system that she was able to take her children and leave her abusive husband, and start a new life for her family as Americans.

Mr. Session’s attempt to unilaterally narrow the definition of who is eligible for asylum from persecution ignores existing U.S. law and jurisprudence.  Further, it violates international law and US treaty obligations. In interpreting the Refugee Convention, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has issued advisory opinions stating that domestic violence victims are potentially part of a social group. It turns back the clock to a time women fleeing gender-based persecution were not given refugee protection.

In my experience, when people have the chance to actually meet and get to know refugees and asylum seekers – and even other migrants who are coming for reasons of family reunification or work – they don’t say things like Mr. Sessions wrote in his opinion in Matter of A.B., “Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”

People who know asylum seekers fleeing domestic violence say things like, “She’s a really good person, just doing the best that she can for her family. She is trapped and has to get out of this violent situation. What can I do to help her?”

Before taking it upon himself personally to change well-established asylum law and practice, I really wish that Mr. Sessions could have met my client Ann. Or maybe even A.B. or others impacted by his decision.

By Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.

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“Zero-Tolerance” Policy, in Tearing Families Apart, is Inhumane and Illegal

As Father’s Day approaches, I keep thinking about one father in particular from Guatemala who is over 2,000 miles away from his 8-year-old daughter. Last week, that little girl told me about the day she was torn from her father’s arms at the border. In tears, they begged the Border Patrol officer to let them stay together.  Months later this little girl, now in the custody of a caregiver, cries herself to sleep, worries constantly about her family, and feels helpless.

I am an immigration attorney who helps people apply for asylum in the United States. But when this little girl came to me, it was to ask me how fast I could help her get deported so she could return to her family.

This is exactly what the Trump administration seeks to achieve in tearing apart families at the border and criminally prosecuting “100 percent” of undocumented border crossers. According to Attorney General Sessions’ recent comments, the intent is to deter asylum seekers from pursuing protections to which they are entitled under U.S. law.  This “zero-tolerance” policy not only is inhumane, it is illegal. U.S. law and international treaty obligations both guarantee the right to seek asylum.

Many of our nation’s founders came to this country seeking refuge, to worship their God and express their political beliefs without fear of repression by their government or society. In that spirit, Congress enacted a pathway to protection for those who could demonstrate that they faced persecution in their home country because of a fundamental aspect of their identity, such as their race, religion, ethnicity, political opinion, or other characteristics. Recognizing that many fleeing for their lives may be forced to leave home before they can obtain a visa, U.S. asylum law explicitly states that a person who “arrives” at our borders “whether or not at a designated a port of arrival … may apply for asylum.”

Asylum is not just a reflection of our nation’s most fundamental values—it is also a reflection of the priorities of the international community. The right to asylum was established in the late 1940’s following the Holocaust. The member states of the United Nations, with the explicit leadership of the United States, created formal protocols to protect refugees.

Given the rhetoric, it might surprise people to learn that asylum seekers face enormous legal obstacles to protection. The majority of claims are denied (even before Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned years of asylum case law for victims of domestic violence this week).

According to Sessions, the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy means that every undocumented border crosser will be criminally prosecuted and that parents bringing their children to the U.S. to protect them from death threats will be prosecuted for smuggling.

This “zero tolerance” violates the fundamental right, enshrined in international treaty and codified in our own U.S. law, to seek asylum from persecution. It violates the right to family integrity, recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as a fundamental liberty interest. (See e.g. Supreme Court case Troxville v. Granville). It violates the right to due process of law.

To punish asylum seekers by taking away their children is exceptionally cruel. It’s also inefficient, creating duplication in a system already plagued by backlogs by requiring asylum seekers whose claims could otherwise by addressed together (parents and children) to present their factually identical claims in different immigration courts across the country.

Children like my bright little 8-year-old client, as well as their fathers and mothers, deserve our most zealous efforts to protect them from these cruel and illegal policies which purposefully deprive them of the right to seek and obtain asylum.  Many studies show that the majority of those presenting themselves at the Southern border have legitimate claims for humanitarian protection under international law.  Americans of all backgrounds must understand that these policies are not only inhumane, they are illegal.

As Father’s Day approaches, please stand with these families. For those whose ancestors came to the US as refugees, as asylum seekers, remember how your own family members made their journey to this country and the American welcome you would have wanted your family member to have.  Show our leaders that Americans believe that separating parents from their children at the border is illegal. Tell our leaders that you believe in the right to seek asylum.

Now is the time to come forward and stand in real solidarity with impacted immigrant communities. Please support organizations that represent these families and children on the border and when released, like The Advocates for Human Rights, the CARA Pro Bono Project  and the Migrant Center for Human Rights.  If you’re a legal professional or speak a second language, get involved with helping a child or family seeking asylum. Follow our blog for updates on advocating for separated families. Contact us and other local organizations that work with immigrants to learn how you can most effectively support your local immigrant communities in this time where their fundamental rights are under attack.

Alison Griffith is a Staff Attorney for The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee & Immigrant Program.

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Welcome Home Blog Series: English-Speaking Cameroonians Work to Highlight Human Rights Abuses

Blog Picture 2
Partners in Hope for Southern Cameroons Refugees, a new nonprofit, raises money to send containers of goods from Minnesota to English-speaking Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria.

Minnesota is home to a wide variety of immigrants who fled violence and oppression in their home countries, but some groups are better known than others. Roger Akembom, who has volunteered for The Advocates, wants to draw attention to some residents who have attracted little political or media attention: his fellow English-speakers from Cameroon, in central western Africa.

Cameroon is a predominantly French-speaking country whose government, according to human-rights watchdogs, has committed serious abuses against residents of the former Southern Cameroons, two Anglophone regions that comprise about 20 percent of the population. These include forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, mass arrests, excessive force by security services, bans on public meetings, and periodic government restrictions on internet access.

Akembom, whose father was a political prisoner, arrived in the U.S. about 17 years ago and won asylum. He says he is among more than 5,000 English-speaking Cameroonians who have settled in Minnesota. But people here are more familiar with larger populations like the Somalis, he says: “There are other immigrant groups like mine. We are facing the same issues.”

He and other Anglophone Cameroonians have been working to raise awareness among policymakers and the public about the dire situation facing their compatriots. One area of deep concern: the tens of thousands of people who have fled to Nigeria to escape military crackdowns. Those escalated last Oct. 1, when Anglophones staged protests about their marginalization in society and activists declared independence for a state they call Ambazonia. Security forces killed more than 17 protesters, according to Amnesty International. (The government argues it needs to take strong action to fight “terrorists” who are waging an armed insurrection and have killed members of security forces.)

Akembum says the refugees need food, medicine, clothing, hygiene products, and money to pay for hospital care. Minnesota Cameroonians have just launched a new nonprofit, Partners in Hope for Southern Cameroons Refugees (PHOSCAR), to ship goods and pay for services at Holy Family Catholic Hospital, in Ikom, Nigeria. Many of the refugees have no money, Okembuom says, and “this is a new country to them; they don’t have transferable skills.”

PHOSCAR will work with a nonprofit that is on the ground in Nigeria. A group called The Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Women of Minnesota raised about $11,000 for the refugees at a fundraising gala last month. For more information about PHOSCAR, email info@phoscarelief.org.

French speakers in Cameroon are also victims of human-rights abuses by the government of Paul Biya, who has held power for 35 years. The Advocates has helped 87 Cameroonian clients in the past 10 years with asylum claims. In 2017, it accepted 13 cases, the highest number in any given year over the past decade, says Sarah Brenes, Director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program. While she didn’t have hard numbers, she believes the majority of the claims have come from Anglophones.

Akembum says a major problem for Cameroonian immigrants is integrating into society. Many are highly educated, he says, but have trouble finding work to match their qualifications. He cites himself as an example: he earned a master’s degree in public policy at St. Thomas University but is working at the post office.

Meanwhile, he is working with other members of the Cameroonian diaspora in the United States who advocate independence for the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest Regions, which activists call by the historical name “Southern Cameroons.” They argue that option was wrongfully denied to Anglophones when Cameroon became independent from France and the United Kingdom in the 1960s. Anglophone representatives ended up negotiating a federalist ystem that was supposed to grant them a large degree of autonomy, but over the years the central government has consolidated power.

For more information about that history, see “Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis at the Crossroads” by the International Crisis Group.

For information on human rights abuses in Cameroon, see “Press Release on the human rights situation in Cameroon,” African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Cameroon: human rights must be respected to end cycle of violence – UN experts, ReliefWeb; Cameroon 2017 Human Rights Report, U.S. State Department.

By Suzanne Perry, a volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights

This article is part of the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota. The first blog posts highlighted the contributions of the Karen Organization of Minnesota, the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota,   and the Oromo Peace and Justice Committee.  If you would like to tell your story, please contact Amy Bergquist at abergquist@advrights.org.
Continue reading “Welcome Home Blog Series: English-Speaking Cameroonians Work to Highlight Human Rights Abuses”

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World Day Against Child Labour

Nepal school
Photo of students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal                                 (Credit: David Parker)

Young children in developing and conflict-ridden nations remain the most economically, socially, and politically marginalized individuals on this planet.  These children are often forced to work at the expense of getting any sort of formal education. June 12 is the annual World Day Against Child LabourThe goal of this initiative is to “shine a spotlight on the global need to improve the safety and health of young workers,” as well as to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) goal of eliminating all forms of child labor by 2025.

The World Day Against Child Labour exists as a reminder of the obligations that nation-states and individuals have under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which includes: the right to be protected from exploitation and harmful work, the right to be protected from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, and the right to be protected from physical or mental violence.

The International Labour Organization has reported on a steady decrease in child labor over the last decade, yet the number of young boys and girls still in child labor—often in hazardous and developmentally debilitating conditions—ought to serve as a stark reminder of our obligations to protect and aid the most vulnerable among us. Here are the facts about child labor in the world, according to the International Labor Organization’s Global estimates of child labour: Results and trends, 2012-2016 report:

  • On any given day in 2016, 152 million children aged 5-17 years old were in child labor;
  • 73 million of those children work in hazardous conditions;
  • Almost half of the world’s laboring children are between the ages of 5 and 11 years old.

 The Advocates’ Work to End Child Labor in Nepal

In Nepal, an estimated 1.6 million Nepali children between the ages of 5 and 14 are child laborers.   According to the 2013/14 Annual Household Survey on Nepal, nearly 48% of Nepali children aged 10-14 years old were in child labor.

Children in Nepal work in in dangerous conditions in brickyards, carpet factories, and quarries, or in agricultural and domestic work. Nepali children are also vulnerable to being trafficked to India. Due to administrative and school-related fees, poor children in Nepal are at risk of forgoing an education and laboring in these dangerous conditions.

This is why The Advocates for Human Rights has worked since 1999 to end child labor in the Sankhu-Palubari community in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.  The Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) in Nepal provides a free education — from pre-K through grade 10 — to the neediest children in this rural Kathmandu Valley area. Founded by The Advocates for Human Rights and operated in partnership with Educate the Children-Nepal and the local community, the school provides a high quality education as a genuine alternative to child labor and offers a brighter future to those in need.  The school currently serves 353 students and has achieved gender parity as 52% of the students are girls. Students also receive a daily meal and health and dental check-ups.

The Advocates for Human Rights supports SPCS through private donations. It costs only $250 to educate a child for one year. On this World Day Against Child Labour, please consider supporting the school and helping a child receive an education, escape child labor, and end the cycle of poverty.

Schools, businesses, and community organizations can also help by raising awareness about the problem of child labor. To become involved or for more information, contact The Advocates for Human Rights at 612-341-3302 or Hrights@advrights.org

 

By Ryan Atkinson, a University of Minnesota student majoring in Political Science.  He is a 2018 Don Fraser Human Rights Fellow with the International Justice Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.

 

People are breaking U.S. immigration law at the border, but it’s not asylum seekers – it’s the U.S. government.

FeaturedPeople are breaking U.S. immigration law at the border, but it’s not asylum seekers – it’s the U.S. government.

The effects of the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy have been immediate and tragic. Just two months after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy for people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and a month after he made clear this would mean parents arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border would be prosecuted for illegal entry and their children taken away, story after story of separated families have appeared. Mr. Sessions also made clear that this zero-tolerance policy applies even to those seeking asylum.

So it’s no surprise that reports of U.S. border guards refusing to allow asylum seekers to make their claims continue to emerge.

People seeking asylum are following the law, not breaking it.

Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. This is the law – both under international law and federal statute. Recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and spelled out in the 1951 Refugee Convention , the United States made good on its commitment to the this principle in 1980 when the Refugee Act was signed into law.

This right ensures that people fleeing persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group have a chance to make their claim before being returned to death, torture, imprisonment, or other human rights violations.

The moral and human cost of ignoring this fundamental human right is high. Witness the voyage of the St. Louis in 1939, when U.S. immigration law’s restrictive immigration quotas resulted in the return of 532 passengers to continental Europe, 254 of whom died during the Holocaust.

U.S. border officials violate the law when they turn back asylum seekers without a hearing.

In the aftermath of World War II, the world community recognized that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.[1] That principle, known to refugee policy wonks as “non-refoulement,” is now a rule of customary international law.[2]

Refusing to allow people to make their asylum claims, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reportedly did this week in El Paso, violates U.S. law and violates U.S. treaty obligations. These complaints are not new or isolated: last summer, for example, the American Immigration Council challenged CBP’s unlawful practice of turning away asylum seekers arriving in California. The case remains pending.

The administration’s efforts to prosecute of asylum seekers who appear at ports-of-entry and separate them from their children also violate international law. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani rebuked the U.S. in a June 5 statement:

“The current policy in the United States of separating ‘extremely young children’ from their asylum-seeker or migrant parents along the country’s southern border ‘always constitutes a child rights violation.’” [3]

A federal judge agrees that the administration’s practice may violate the U.S. Constitution. In a ruling earlier this week, the judge denied the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the ACLU challenging the practice.

While the administration claims it wants immigrants to “follow the law,” it seems blind to the fact that people who appear at ports-of-entry and claim asylum In addition to The Refugee Convention also prohibits the U.S. from imposing penalties on asylum seekers on account of their illegal entry or presence.[4] In order to deter asylum seekers from coming to the United States.

We need zero tolerance for human rights violations, not for people seeking asylum.

We need zero tolerance for public policy based on hate, racism, and xenophobia. While the administration’s new policies are ripping families apart and denying people their fundamental right to seek asylum, the policies have not slowed the arrival of people seeking protection. More than 50,000 people were arrested crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in May, the third month in a row with more than 50,000 arrests. A report by the Vera Institute of Justice released this week found no evidence that criminal prosecutions led to a decline in apprehensions along the Southwest border.

This is hardly surprising. People fleeing for their lives don’t consult presidential Twitter feeds or check Justice Department press releases. Like good parents everywhere, they go where they hope their children will be able to grow up in safety, protected by the rule of law and the principles of human rights.

[1] 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 33(1).

[2] Customary international law is

[3] While the United States stands alone among the world’s nations as the only country not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, international law is clear that the family is entitled to respect and protection. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, article 16(3), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, article 23(1), and American Convention on Human Rights, 1969, article 17(1) each state that ‘The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’.  European Social Charter, 1961, article 16, ‘With a view to ensuring the necessary conditions for the full development of the family, which is a fundamental unit of society, the Contracting Parties undertake to promote the economic, legal and social protection of family life ….’ African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1981, article 18(1) ‘The family shall be the natural unit and basis of society.  It shall be protected by the State which shall take care of its physical and moral health.’

[4] 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 31 (1).

Take Action to End the Separation of Immigrant Families

FeaturedTake Action to End the Separation of Immigrant Families

As #WhereAreTheChildren trended over the Memorial Day weekend, many people asked what they can do to protect children who have fled to the United States. Here are 5 things to know and do.

Number 1: Demand the end of family separation as a weapon to deter people from seeking asylum. In early April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance policy” for illegal entry into the United States, taking away prosecutorial discretion from U.S. attorneys Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas by mandating criminal prosecution of anyone who attempts to enter the United States without authorization including – and in violation of Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention – asylum seekers. A month later, Sessions, along with the Department of Homeland Security, spelled out the impact of that policy: “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.” Call your congressional representatives to urge Congress to take action to end this practice.

Number 2: Take part in the #FamiliesBelongTogether National Day of Action . Actions are being organized around the country. (If you’re in the Twin Cities, lawyers are organizing a meet-up at the Hennepin County Government Center fountain on Friday at noon. Bring your friends. Bring a sign. Bring a lunch. Consider wearing white. There won’t be any program. We just want to gather a big group to show that the community believes America must treat every person with respect.)

Number 3: Don’t call for more surveillance and tracking of immigrant children. The “missing” children are not missing. These children’s adult sponsors – family members or others with whom they had a preexisting relationship – may not have answered the phone when the federal government called. As The New York Times, in one of the many attempts to make sense of the story, reported over the weekend:

“Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees refugee resettlement, began making calls last year to determine what had happened to 7,635 children the government had helped place between last October and the end of the year.

From these calls, officials learned that 6,075 children remained with their sponsors. Twenty-eight had run away, five had been removed from the United States and 52 had relocated to live with a nonsponsor. The rest were unaccounted for, giving rise to the 1,475 number. It is possible that some of the adult sponsors simply chose not to respond to the agency.”

Number 4: Urge Congress to pass the HELP Separated Children Act. Led by Senator Tina Smith and Rep. Roybal-Allard, the HELP Separated Children Act would provide basic protection to children whose parents are facing deportation. Learn more about the bill here.

Number 5: Demand that children seeking safety in our country are treated humanely. A new ACLU report based on thousands of pages of documents show “breathtaking” misconduct, abuse, and neglect of children coupled with a reprehensible failure of accountability. These documents cover 2009-2014, showing that the Obama administration bears the blame for creating the system being deployed against families today. You can sign the ACLU petition calling on U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to stop subjecting children in its custody to physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, hold responsible agents accountable, and create safeguards against future abuses.

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights

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Morocco’s human rights record should threaten eligibility to host FIFA World Cup

fahrul-azmi-578025-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Fahrul Azmi at Unsplash

On April 16, 2018, five individuals landed unexpectedly at the airport in Casablanca, Morocco, looked around the terminal for an hour or so, and then left. The group was sent by FIFA to inspect Morocco’s airports, hotels, and soccer stadiums as part of the country’s bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the global soccer tournament held once every four years. Only Canada, Mexico, and USA had submitted a joint bid to rival Morocco’s, and initially the question was whether the small North African nation had the resources and basic infrastructure necessary to host such an enormous event. But, in the days since the task force’s arrival in Casablanca, FIFA’s attention has turned, appropriately, to Morocco’s record on human rights.

Today, The Advocates for Human Rights sent a letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino alerting FIFA that Moroccan criminal law discriminates against women and does not guarantee a safe environment for all World Cup attendees regardless of gender. The Advocates’ letter calls upon FIFA to uphold its commitment to international human rights – particularly women’s rights to freedom from discrimination and violence – by declaring that, until Morocco’s discriminatory criminal laws are repealed and measures are taken to respond adequately to sexual violence, the country’s eligibility to host the 2026 World Cup is called into question.

Moroccan criminal laws discriminate against women

Current Moroccan laws criminalize all sexual relations outside of marriage. Police are known to harass unmarried lovers, breaking into private homes in the middle of the night and arresting individuals on charges of adultery.

Further, Moroccan laws create significant barriers to justice for women who have been raped. For example, in cases of sexual assault and rape, Moroccan law continues to require that victims prove non-consent by showing actual physical injuries resulting from the act of violence, and ignores the act of violence itself. Moreover, rape victims are deterred from seeking help out of fear of prosecution for illicit sexual relations outside of marriage under articles 490 and 491 of the Moroccan Penal Code. And violence against women is a widespread problem in Morocco: 62.8 percent of women report some form of violence within a given one-year period; an estimated 23 percent of women experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.

The Advocates’ letter presses FIFA to further examine Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup and to engage in dialogue with national representatives toward solutions. Such discriminatory laws create disincentives to all fans – foreign and Moroccan – to attend World Cup matches and festivities. Moreover, the laws create disincentives to female fans in particular to attend because of the threat of gender-based violence. The resulting low attendance may have a direct, negative impact on the World Cup itself, both in ticket sales and in attendance at games and related World Cup events.

Other advocacy groups have noted that Moroccan criminal laws also discriminate on basis of sexual orientation. Morocco failed to disclose its anti-LGBT laws in its bidding materials, in violation of FIFA rules. In response, this week FIFA sent a second technical committee to Morocco to look into human rights concerns, in addition to infrastructure issues.

FIFA’s own human rights record

Stated simply, Morocco’s criminal laws are incompatible with international human rights standards and with FIFA’s Human Rights Policy. That a second, unplanned FIFA technical committee returned to Morocco this week, specifically to look into human rights concerns, suggests that FIFA is taking seriously its commitment to international human rights.

In 2017, FIFA adopted a new, landmark Human Rights Policy, while also creating a Human Rights Advisory Board to guide its implementation. Among other things, FIFA’s Human Rights Policy effectuates article 4 of FIFA Statutes, which prohibits discrimination of any kind, by requiring that future bids to host the FIFA World Cup are vetted against international human rights standards.

FIFA’s return to Morocco also suggests a sea change in FIFA policy and practice. In June, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia, a country known for anti-LGBT laws of its own, among other human rights concerns. Similarly, the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held in Qatar, where there are serious concerns about labor trafficking in the country’s efforts to build the stadiums and other infrastructure necessary to host the event. Because of the overwhelming criticism from international human rights groups and others for its overt disregard for human rights abuses in connection to FIFA-sanctioned events, in 2015, FIFA engaged in a process to review and possibly overhaul its policies and business practices.

Whether that review has transformed the organization remains to be seen. But FIFA’s Human Rights Policy was adopted in the wake of that review, and such policy forms the basis for the added scrutiny over Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid – clear evidence that the advocacy efforts of international human rights groups, like The Advocates for Human Rights, can leverage the private sector to shift national laws and public policy.

Conclusion

FIFA, like many private industries, believes that its product – soccer – has the power to change the world. At a March conference, FIFA President Infantino stated that the global sport has immense “strength” that can be used as “a force for good.” As The Advocates noted in today’s letter to President Infantino, although such statements carry great promise, to have meaning FIFA must act on them. The question is whether FIFA holds firm to its commitment to international human rights – particularly women’s rights to freedom from discrimination and violence – by engaging with Morocco’s national representatives to improve its World Cup bid. In turn, Morocco will have ample incentive to repeal its discriminatory laws and enact new protections for women.

Whether Morocco is awarded the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be decided by the FIFA Council on June 13, 2018.

By Jon Mosher, Spring 2018 PHRGE Fellow, Northeastern University School of Law 2018. Jon is currently a fellow with The Advocates’ International Justice Program. 

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“I think I will go mad here”: Putting a Face on Immigration Detention

The first week of March was eerily calm for me.  

As the person at The Advocates for Human Rights in charge of our client intake, one of my primary responsibilities is monitoring our client line, a phone line open from 9AM – 5PM Monday through Friday where we get calls from people seeking help.  

Normally we get somewhere between 20 and 30 calls on a given work day, which might be a 5-minute referral or a 40+ minute intake interview – certainly enough to keep me and our crew of undergraduate interns busy. And yet, the first week of March, the calls seemed inexplicably less frequent and less pressing. 

The twist? We received a letter from an inmate informing us that the phone system at Sherburne County Jail had not been working properly for several days, and dozens of people detained by immigration had been unable to reach us. Once we contacted the jail and got the problem resolved, our call volume immediately jumped back up again – and kept rising. 

You see, over the past year, The Advocates’ client line has been getting an increasing number of calls of all types, but especially from detainees. In July 2017, we received 41 calls from detainees. In March 2018, received 274. The months in between show a near-linear upward progression. 

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 Our increase in calls is really no surprise when you look at current trends in ICE detention. The Trump administration has made concerted efforts to expand its arrest and detention capacity. The bottom line? More people are getting detained, and those who are detained are staying in detention longer. It’s to the point where facilities are rapidly running out of beds. As NPR reported last fall, “ICE reports the average daily population in its detention facilities was a little more than 38,000 for the 2017 fiscal year. The president’s 2018 budget plan requests an increase of $1.2 billion in funding for detention beds, to support an average population of over 48,000 adults.”  

The demographic of detainees is also changing. According to ICE data recently obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center, more than half of the daily population in the first month of FY 2018 were marked as “non-criminal,” seen as posing “no threat,” while a mere 15% were classified as high threats, with violent criminal histories. Further, a recent report from the American Immigration Lawyers Association finds that from FY 2016 to 2017, arrests of immigrants with criminal convictions has increased a notable 12%, while arrests of people with no criminal convictions has increased a whopping 146% 

At The Advocates for Human Rights, these statistical trends are translated into conversations with individuals. People in ICE detention call for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they will ask for country conditions research needed to apply for asylum, or pro se (legalese for “DIY”) information for a particular application. Still others need contact information for miscellaneous institutions as they try to collect documentation from detention to support their case.  

Sometimes you can tell they just want to talk to someone about what they’re going through. One inmate asked for help to request a new copy of his documents: he’d lent a copy of a motion he filed to a fellow inmate to use as a model – then that friend was woken and deported at 3AM, taking the man’s papers with him. Some report medical issues, threats from fellow inmates, or being sent to solitary after raising a complaint.  

There’s a feeling of desolation such that even people with viable claims for legal relief consider giving up. One detainee, who had been denied ibuprofen for recurring headaches, commented, “I won’t even resist deportation if I’m ordered – I just want to be able to live a decent life, you know?”  

In another conversation, a man commented, “I feel like I’m losing my mind […] I think I will go mad here.”  

Of course, the most frequent request from detainees on the client line is legal representation. Detention’s most devastating consequence is that it limits vulnerable immigrants’ already limited access to legal counsel. This makes the work of The Advocates, especially through The Minnesota Detention Project, more valuable day by day.  

Not an attorney? Not a problem. Here are three concrete ways you too can make an impact: 

1) Help us monitor Immigration Proceedings through The Court Observer Project. 

2) Sign up as an interpreter to facilitate attorney meetings with detained immigrants.

3) Donate to The Advocates for Human Rights, so that when calls pour in on Client Line, we cannot not only answer, but respond.  
 

For my fellow research enthusiasts, here are links to more numbers and analysis of trends in immigration detention: 

 By: Rosie La Puma, Program Assistant in the Refugee & Immigrant program at The Advocates for Human Rights

 

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Jenna goes to the United Nations

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Thanks to The Advocates for Human Rights, I just had the opportunity to take my interest in human rights work— and particularly my longstanding advocacy work on gender violence issues— to the United Nations in Geneva. Along with 11 others, including representatives from NGOs in Cameroon and Azerbaijan, I participated in The Advocates’ annual UN Study Advocacy trip, where we spent five days in Geneva at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council lobbying Human Rights Council members on gender violence, LGBTQ and death penalty issues. Even though I am just 17, during the week The Advocates ensured that I was not just a passive observer to their work – rather, they allowed me the opportunity to play an active role providing me with an opportunity to be an advocate at the international level.

On my first full day in Geneva, I got the opportunity to participate in a side event panel on Violence Against Women. I was honored to speak alongside experts in the field in women’s rights and gender violence, who addressed the issue of gender violence in Azerbaijan, Columbia and Russia. My presentation focused on gender violence at the high school level, an often overlooked issue. I spoke about, among other things, the need to change the dynamic and educate children at a young age about the meaning of consent. My hope is that by early education we might be able to dissipate the prevalence of gender violence in the community at large.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the next day I actually got to make an oral statement to the Human Rights Council — on the floor of the United Nations — on the implementation of the Vienna Declaration. The Vienna Declaration emphasizes the importance of eliminating “gender bias in the administration of justice.” In my statement, I spoke about the importance of criminal laws in combating violence against women and the need for UN member states to adopt laws in line with international standards to protect victim safety and promote offender accountability. I am glad I can speak quickly – as, during this particular session, each NGO had 90 seconds to speak. They actually cut you off if you go over your time. I think the man sitting next to me was a bit surprised to see someone so young sitting in the NGO speaker seat.

On days following, I got the opportunity to participate in small meetings with staff members of the Special Rapporteur on human trafficking in persons, especially in women and children and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women. We got to learn about their priorities for the coming year and some of the amazing work they have been doing. The representatives of the Special Rapporteurs truly seemed interested in the work of The Advocates and solicited examples of best practices as well as assistance in their ongoing work.

I also got to lobby. One of the primary reasons The Advocates attends the Human Rights Council sessions is to encourage delegates to comment during the Universal Periodic Review process – which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. It is done in cycles so every country is not up for review at once. During the UPR process there is an opportunity for any government to raise questions and make recommendations about any other government’s human rights compliance. Before the trip, The Advocates did extensive research regarding the human rights record of several countries up for their UPR — Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, and Russia – and prepared recommendations on ways those countries could make improvement on issues including women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and the death penalty. With those recommendations in hand, along with other members of our team, I got to approach delegates encouraging them to meet with us to discuss The Advocates’ recommendations – and, if they didn’t want to meet, giving them prepared fact sheets on the various issues. While at first I was afraid to approach some of the delegates (you literally go into the Human Rights Council chamber and tap people on the shoulder and ask them to speak with you), I was excited to see how receptive people were to speak with us. I understand that in the past, many delegates have not only adopted The Advocates suggested recommendations but also that the recommendations were ultimately accepted by the countries under review.

I also had the opportunity to watch the Human Rights Council debates. I got to hear a representative from Hungary declare that migration was not a fundamental human right and hear a delegate from Cuba call out US hypocrisy on issues of civil and human rights. More importantly, I got to watch in action a body of international players trying to hold countries accountable for human rights violations – asking questions and making proposals. It was amazing to see individual countries human rights records being held up to public scrutiny. I loved the fact that UNTV televises the debates, so that the discussions are readily accessible throughout the world.

Finally, I got to watch The Advocates staff in action – creating a team out of a group with disparate skill sets and expertise. Robin, Jennifer, Rose and Amy willingly shared their expertise, helping us all to become better advocates. I have a new found understanding of the importance of their work – and the influence they have at the international level. I will be forever grateful for this experience from which I learned so much not only from watching the UN in action but also from the members of the team who were incredibly kind and supportive. And, in case any of the team members are interested, I did get my AP American History paper on the Chinese Exclusion Act done in time (although the last night of our trip was a very long night).

By The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger Jenna Schulman.  Jenna is a high school  student in Washington, D.C. 

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2017: A Year of Strength for Women

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As we look back on The Advocates’ women’s human rights work in 2017 and the movement to hold accountable perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault, the word that comes to mind is strength In the last year, we strengthened the capacity of women’s rights defenders, made life-saving recommendations for reforms, and strategized how the UN can become even better in achieving gender equality.

We continued to identify gaps in governments’ responses to violence against women so we can tell them how to make women’s lives safer. Last year, we released reports on domestic violence in Montenegro and Serbia, where they become tools to bring sweeping changes.

Because of our reports, laws become better: domestic violence is criminalized, victims’ protections strengthened, and shelters funded.

 

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We also began building a multi-country cadre of women’s human rights defenders to use international mechanisms. By teaching 16 Russian-speaking lawyers how to leverage these remedies, we build their capacity to safeguard women’s rights against sexual harassment, trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault. This work is powerful and life-saving for the women in many countries with few realistic options for safety.  One lawyer told us,

With your help, I have started to believe that we can change our situation to the best.”

 

Theresa

And, of course, we have continued our advocacy before the UN, holding countries to the highest standards of women’s rights, while expanding our lens to focus on the UN itself. After all, if the UN is going to lead on women’s human rights, it must lead by example. In the face of ongoing investigations of sexual harassment by senior UN figures, such scrutiny is long overdue.

As a core member of the UN Gender Network, we are reviewing the UN’s gender equality policies and will make recommendations for reform at a UN roundtable next month.

We will continue to build on our momentum through 2018. I hope you will join us at three exciting events:

Please join us in 2018 as we celebrate women’s human rights, and thank you for your support to make the world a better, safer place for women.

By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

 

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The delegation from Ukraine, led by H.E. Mr. Sergiy Petukhov, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine for the European Integration, speaks during Ukraine’s Universal Periodic Review on November 15, 2017. Source: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/human-rights-council/universal-periodic-review/28th-upr/watch/ukraine-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5647215634001#

For the 3rd cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Ukraine, The Advocates for Human Rights submitted a stakeholder report in collaboration with Center “Women’s Perspectives,” a non-governmental agency based in Lviv, Ukraine. The report focused on the prevalence of domestic violence in Ukraine.

Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in Ukraine. In 2016, the Ministry of Social Policy recorded 96,143 complaints of domestic violence, and data indicate that the number of complaints has been on the rise by 10% per year. The legal system fails to adequately protect women, a problem exacerbated by ongoing political conflict.  Ukraine has not yet created a specific crime of domestic violence, nor has it specifically defined gender-based violence in its laws. A package of laws to address violence against women passed a first hearing in Parliament in 2016, but was sent back to a working group over concerns the draft laws were harmful to traditional family values. Members of Parliament have asked the working group to remove references to “gender” and “sexual orientation” and to allow religious groups to sit on the Working Group. Ukraine has yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. Victim services remain insufficient and underfunded.

During the UPR in early November 2017, 70 countries made 190 recommendations to Ukraine, 29 of which were related to domestic violence or violence against women. This marks a significant increase from the four domestic violence-related recommendations made in 2012, a sign that more countries are taking note of conditions in Ukraine.

After the review, the country can either accept or reject the recommendations, and can choose to provide an additional response if it wishes to explain its decision. The UPR process also gives the state under review the option to delay its response to some or all of the recommendations. Ukraine has decided to defer decision on all of its recommendations and will have until March 2018 (the 37th session of the Human Rights Council) to submit an addendum with its responses to the recommendations.

By Laura Dahl, a 2017 graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Global Studies and Neuroscience. She is a Fall 2017 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

This post is the fourth in a series on The Advocates’ international advocacy.  The series highlights The Advocates’ work with partners to bring human rights issues in multiple countries to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Additional post in the series include:

The Advocates’ lobbying against the death penalty packs a big punch at the Universal Periodic Review of Japan

How The Advocates brings the stories of women and children fleeing violence to the international stage

Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

 

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What’s it like to be an Advocate for Human Rights? An interview with Amy Bergquist

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Amy Bergquist is the International Justice Program Staff Attorney at The Advocates for Human Rights. Her job responsibilities include coordinating The Advocates’ advocacy at the United Nations and working with diaspora communities to improve human rights situations in their home countries.  Amy also represents The Advocates on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty  and was recently elected as the World Coalition’s Vice President.

Describe your typical day or week at work.

There’s nothing typical, so it’s not boring. There’s always something new. I keep up with correspondence with international partners and pro bono volunteers. I do a lot of writing, editing, and researching. Then there’s prepping and facilitating presentations, workshops, and trainings. I also respond to requests and questions on a variety of topics from a variety of people, many of whom have never before interacted with The Advocates.

What kinds of problems do you face on a day-to-day basis?

Finding on-the-ground facts and information and determining which facts are reliable. Also, people see our name and think we can do everything related to human rights, so if they have a request that isn’t something we do, finding referrals for them can be a challenge. It’s also a challenge to get the word out about our organization to potential partner organizations.

What do you most like about working in this field?

I like that the organization is small enough that there is not a lot of hierarchy and appreciate the autonomy I’m given. I have the ability to collaborate with partners, to help them do their work more effectively and make a tangible difference with them.

What do you like the least about it?

Human rights advocacy is frustrating. Accomplishing goals is slow, and sometimes it feels like we’re not getting anywhere. You have to celebrate the victories you get, but sometimes those victories aren’t there or are small. But this just shows that our work is needed.

What is it like to work for this particular organization? How would you describe the culture at The Advocates?

Our work is volunteer-based, which means that we’re not guardians of a castle that no one else can enter. We’re inclusive in our collaboration with others. You don’t have to be an expert in human rights to make a difference.

Tell us about your career path that led you to this job.

In college, I was interested in human rights issues, especially refugee issues. I tutored refugees and did my honors thesis on refugee issues. I also had an interest in law. Then I lived in Moscow for a couple of years, where I taught and developed my Russian skills. After that, I came home, got my teaching degree, and taught for 11 years. While I was teaching, I coached debate and found myself living vicariously through the students I was coaching. I was teaching social studies to recently arrived refugees and got to hear a lot of their stories. These factors were what drove me to giving law school a try so I could pursue law and human rights. During law school, I volunteered with The Advocates, where I did fact finding with Minnesota’s Oromo community. I participated in an immigration clinic representing asylum seekers. I was also a research assistant for a professor who was an expert in the field of human rights. After law school, I did some judicial clerkships and then spent a year in private practice. Then The Advocates had a position open up, and they hired me. I’ve been here for about six years now.

What experiences best prepared you for this job? How did you learn to do your work?

There’s a lot of learning on the job, which is a good skill, especially at the UN where things are always changing. Being a research assistant gave me the skill of figuring out how to do things I’ve never done before. It’s also important to know how and when to ask for help.

What is a typical career path in this field? Are there opportunities for advancement?

My career path is not typical. There are a lot of ways to do what I do without a law degree. On the law side, it’s good to go to a law school that has some human rights programming, particularly clinics. Take advantage of being a research assistant for someone who is involved in human rights. I did judicial clerkships after law school, but they don’t necessarily have ties to human rights. There are clerkships at the Hague, which may be beneficial. Go into private practice and do pro bono for for a human rights organization. Get support in a private firm and develop skills that will benefit human rights organizations. It’s unusual to go straight from law school to a human rights organization.

What does the future look like in this field? Is anything in the field changing?

There’s more of an emphasis on letting organizations in the global south take on leadership roles. We’re a great potential partner to organizations in the global south, and we’re building a reputation so organizations know that we are available for collaboration. We’re not trying to impose a particular model or dictate to our partners.

How could a student best prepare themselves for a track in human rights?

Get involved with human rights-oriented student organizations. Attend lunchtime talks and, if you attend the University of Minnesota Law School, participate in the asylum law project. Attend CLEs and try to meet people – it’s a way of networking without being “network-y,” and people are pleasantly surprised when law students show up. Get involved with committees of state bar associations or the ABA. Organizations that have law student components may not be human rights specific, but you can offer to set up presentations and CLEs for them on human rights topics, and then you’ll be the one calling potential presenters, and it’s a good way to get yourself out there. Judicial clerkships in U.S. courts aren’t super relevant, but they’re a good way to develop your legal research and writing skills.

Read more about Amy Bergquist’s work in the areas of the death penalty, as well as  LGBTI rights and discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity.

Young artists share their vision for a world without the death penalty

Abolishing the Death Penalty: in Memory of John Thompson 

The Death Penalty Doesn’t Stop Drug Crimes

African Commission Urges Cameroon to End LGBTI Discrimination

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for LGBTI Rights in Africa

Out in the Cold: LGBT Visibility at Olympics Key to Ending Homophobia

Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law: How U.S. Extremists are Fueling the Fight Against LGBTI Rights

Locking the Iron Closet: Russia’s Propaganda Law Isolates Vulnerable LGBTI Youth

The Wild East: Vigilante Violence against LGBTI Russians

Moving Forward: Four Steps and Six Strategies for Promoting LGBTI Rights Around the World

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Building the Capacity of Russian-Speaking Lawyers to Protect Women’s Human Rights 

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Our Legal Training Academy fellows from Georgia, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan working together on a UN treaty body exercise.

Members of The Advocates’ staff recently returned from Bulgaria, where we finished training 16 lawyers at the first session of our Legal Training Academy on Women’s Human Rights (LTA). Through this two-year project, we are building the capacity of lawyers to use international and regional human rights mechanisms to defend women’s human rights after all domestic remedies have failed. Being able to effectively access these options is crucial. For lawyers in some countries, which may not have adequate public prosecution laws concerning domestic violence or even basic protections for victims, the option of being able to leverage another remedy is powerful. Once a lawyer has exhausted the options available to them in their country, it is not the end of the road for the victim/survivor. Instead, they can still pursue effective, top-down recourse through the UN, European Court of Human Rights, and the Council of Europe. This two-year training academy teaches these lawyers how to most effectively bring these cases.  

 

The lawyers hail from nine countries in the Former Soviet Union—Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan, to name a few. Often, these human rights defenders are operating under laws that oppress or hinder civil society. For example, some of these countries impose onerous NGO registration requirements, while others use “foreign agent” laws to brand NGOs as spies and subject to heavy surveillance and conditions. Yet, each of these lawyers brought energy, commitment, enthusiasm, as well as drive to learn and connect with each other.  

 

In this first of three training sessions, we spent the first day hearing from the participants about the issues they face in their country. They described issues such as the severe lack of shelters, legal aid, and resources for women victims and survivors, the abuse of women in prison, and the use of village elders to decide cases of violence against women rather than formal court systems.

For example, one participant described the harmful practice and effects of polygamy in her country: “How do you register second and third wives? As a second or third wife, if my husband comes and beats me, and I’m not married, I cannot get a restraining order.”  

 Throughout the week, we discussed various forms of violence against women, including sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and trafficking. We also addressed human rights for LGBTI and persons living with HIV.  

 

In the next two sessions, taking place in spring and fall of 2018, we will build the skills of these lawyers to leverage the UN and European mechanisms. Importantly, we are building not only a cadre of trained women’s human rights defenders, but a network of peers who will continue to share best practices and strategies, support each other’s efforts transnationally, and celebrate successes. Already, we have begun to see the impact after our first training. At the conclusion of the session, one participant said, 

“With your help, I have started to believe that we can change our situation to the best. Thank you all very much.”  

By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Stand with The Advocates in 2018

2017 was a year that has been as challenging as any in my more than two decades working in the human rights movement.The Advocates was founded on the principle that we all play a part in making human rights real and this principle is more relevant today than ever. It is news to no one concerned about human rights that the systemic affronts to dignity, freedom, and justice for all have been deep and widespread. It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the 2016 election on our work and the dramatic increase in the demands that came in its wake.

But, for every assault on human rights that we witnessed in the past year, we redoubled our efforts to advocate, educate, and litigate in the service of justice and human dignity. 

For every attack on our values, hundreds of our volunteers came forward. We have developed new initiatives to respond to these challenges:

  • the new court observer and pro bono bond project created in response to the Administration’s travel ban and increased punitive immigration policies;
  • a collaboration with our partners to train more than 100 attorneys on the legal implications of sanctuary work so that they can assist faith communities considering that option;
  • contributions to the nationwide efforts to end human trafficking by lending a human rights perspective, and more.

The fact is, there is great opportunity in the midst of the many challenges that face the human rights community.Even as we have watched appalling attacks on human rights, we have also witnessed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world come off the sidelines, many for the first time, and say “Enough!”

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Photo credit:
United Nations, Photo No. 1292 (Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a Universal Declaration of Human Rights poster in English, November 1949.)

Our movement has the power to inspire, to galvanize people, because it is grounded in basic human rights principles. As stated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world is the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. Our job as advocates is to insist that public policy uphold human dignity and fundamental human rights principles. These rights include: the right to security, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from discrimination—rights that belong to each of us simply by virtue of being a member of the human family.

As we move into 2018, The Advocates will continue to build the human rights movement locally and globally with persistence and determination. Together we can make a difference. From saving the life of an individual asylum seeker who has come for protection from persecution to adopting new laws and policies to protect the rights of human trafficking victims to ensuring that legal systems in the United States and around the world work to eliminate violence against women.

We appreciate all the many ways you have helped us work toward our vision of a world where all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality and peace.We know what to do. Please work with us to have an even greater impact in 2018, by making a donation, volunteering your time, and every day, advocating for human rights for all.

By Robin Phillips, Executive Director of The Advocates for Human Rights. 

AHR 2015 Year End

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Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

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The delegation from Sri Lanka, led by H.E. Mr. Harsha De Silva, Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs of Sri Lanka, at the November 15th, 2017 UPR of Sri Lanka. Source: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/human-rights-council/universal-periodic-review/watch/sri-lanka-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5648383899001#

The Advocates for Human Rights serves on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. In that capacity, The Advocates often collaborates with the World Coalition to engage in advocacy at the United Nations when a UN body reviews the human rights record of a country that retains the death penalty.

One recent example is Sri Lanka. The Advocates, in collaboration with The World Coalition, submitted a stakeholder report about the death penalty in Sri Lanka for consideration during the country’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council.

Sri Lanka acknowledges itself as a de facto abolitionist state and carried out its last execution in 1976. Yet Sri Lankan courts continue to sentence defendants to death and the country’s constitution still authorizes the use of the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, in 2016 Sri Lankan courts sentenced at least 79 people to death and an estimated 1,000 prisoners were under sentence of death.

During Sri Lanka’s second UPR in 2012, six countries made recommendations that called on Sri Lanka to abolish the death penalty or consider a formal moratorium. Sri Lanka rejected all six recommendations. Since then, President Sirisena and his government have made positive public statements suggesting they are working toward abolishing the death penalty. In a speech given at the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka reinforced that the Sri Lankan Government was committed to maintaining the moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to its ultimate abolition. In December 2016, Sri Lanka voted with 116 Member States of the United Nations to support a universal moratorium on the death penalty.

The public statements made by Sri Lanka were reinforced by the country’s increased openness to UPR recommendations. During its latest UPR on November 15th, 2017, Sri Lanka accepted three of thirteen recommendations made on the death penalty.

In 2012, Sri Lanka rejected three recommendations that urged considering abolition of the death penalty: “Consider the definite abolishment of the death penalty in its internal legislation” (Argentina and Ecuador) and “Seriously consider the possibility to abolish capital punishment” (Italy). In 2017, Sri Lanka accepted two remarkably similar recommendations: “Consider to abolish the death penalty” (Italy) and “Consider abolishing the death penalty” (Timor-Leste). Sri Lanka’s willingness to accept such recommendations may indicate changing government attitudes toward the practice.

Sri Lanka pays particular attention to the specific wording of recommendations. Sri Lanka’s new-found willingness to accept death penalty recommendations extends only to accepting recommendations that don’t bind them to any decision — all three accepted recommendations begin with some form of the word “consider.” For example:

  • Sri Lanka accepted, “Consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty” (Uruguay) but rejected “Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty” (Montenegro, Spain).
  • Similarly, Sri Lanka accepted “Consider abolishing the death penalty” (Timor-Leste) but rejected “Abolish the death penalty” (Australia). Sri Lanka rejected seven comparable recommendations, even those that recommended “taking steps” towards abolition.
Sri Lanka photo 2 Timor Leste gives rec
Mr. Aurélio Barros, representative from Timor-Leste, delivers his country’s recommendations to Sri Lanka during the November 15th UPR. Source: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/human-rights-council/universal-periodic-review/watch/sri-lanka-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5648383899001#

To be sure, a recommendation to “consider” abolition of the death penalty is not as strong as a recommendation to abolish the death penalty. The fact that some governments made weaker recommendations and some made stronger recommendations nevertheless gives us some insights into Sri Lanka’s evolving position on the death penalty. And we expect the Sri Lankan government to take concrete steps between now and its next UPR in 2022 to explore how abolition could be incorporated into the Penal Code and Constitution or to conduct public awareness surveys on the popularity of the practice. Perhaps by the time Sri Lanka is up for its fourth-cycle UPR, the country will have had enough opportunity for careful consideration to be able to definitely abolish the death penalty.

By Laura Dahl, a 2017 graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Global Studies and Neuroscience. She is a Fall 2017 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

This post is the third in a series on The Advocates’ international advocacy.  The series highlights The Advocates work with partners to bring human rights issues in multiple countries to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Additional post in the series include:

How The Advocates brings the stories of women and children fleeing violence to the international stage

The Advocates’ lobbying against the death penalty packs a big punch at the Universal Periodic Review of Japan

Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

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UN Gender Network: Understanding How Gender Impacts the UN’s Activities and Leadership

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 Members of the UN Gender Network include civil society, academics, UN former and current staff and government representatives.  Women’s Program Director Rosalyn Park (center row) represents The Advocates for Human Rights in the UN Gender Network.

For the past year, The Advocates for Human Rights has been a core member of the UN Gender Network. Convened by the University of Reading and Durham University, the UN Gender Network is a unique project to foster dialogue and an understanding of gender equality policies within the United Nations. We seek to investigate how it impacts UN leadership on the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5 on Gender Equality, and other policies. To do so, the UN Gender Network has brought together civil society, academics, UN former and current staff and government representatives over the course of three workshops to discuss these issues. A fourth workshop will take place in 2018 to launch the network’s policy recommendations to the United Nations.

When I talk about the UN Gender Network, people are often surprised to learn of the need to scrutinize the UN on its own gender equality policies. But after all, if the UN is going to lead on women’s human rights, it is important that it lead by example. The UN does not have one single gender equality policy applicable to each of its multiple bodies. Instead, the development and implementation of such policies are left to the discretion of individual bodies. The result: UN entities have very disparate policies or, in some cases, no policies at all. A 2016 UN Women report found that only 89% of UN bodies have a policy on sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation. Only 70% of UN bodies have a policy on discrimination, and just 67% have policies on anti-retaliation.

To examine this further, we engaged the pro bono services of DechertFredrikson & ByronFaegre Baker Daniels, and Stinson Leonard Street to map out the gender equality policies across all of the different UN bodies. Volunteers examined the spectrum of gender equality policies, including recruitment and appointment, facilitative policies, career advancement, harassment/discrimination, and separation policies. Initial findings reveal that while some UN bodies have strong, comprehensive gender equality policies, others are in many areas lacking or, where they do exist, tend to be more aspirational than effective. In other cases, good policies are in place but are not readily utilized by staff, indicating a need for ongoing monitoring. At its third workshop at Durham University this November, the UN Gender Network reviewed the draft recommendations it will make to the UN to advance gender equality priorities.

In September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a system-wide strategy to address gender parity within the UN this fall, signaling a commitment to the issue and to achieve parity by 2028 across all levels at the UN. The strategy marks a first step toward addressing gender equality issues within the UN, but it will take ongoing commitment and multidisciplinary engagement to push through effective reforms. To join the UN Gender Network or learn more, please visit https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/united-nations-gender-network/.

 By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

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What’s it like to be an Advocate for Human Rights? An interview with Courtnie Gore

Courtnie Gore

Courtnie Gore is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow with The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program. Equal Justice Works is an organization that funds internships and programs for lots of different causes. The focus of Courtnie’s fellowship is immigration.

What are some of the benefits of working as a legal fellow?

The guidance – The learning curve is heavy in any practice. One beautiful thing about a fellowship is that you’re still somewhat of a student while still being a legal professional. You get training and you get to work with others in the community. Not to say you can make careless mistakes, but you can make procedural hiccups, and you can have a coach to guide you through that process.

What are the requirements of your fellowship?

Within my fellowship I have to represent a minimum of 30 children. Right now I have 34, and I think I have one more coming in next week. I started in September 2016. My fellowship is for a year, and it was extended through March 2018. For the fellowship you need 1700 hours of work in the year. The hours aren’t hard to meet if you’re engaged.  The number of clients was at first intimidating.  20 percent of the fellowship can be dedicated to training; 80 percent has to be hands-on work. Within the fellowship, you are afforded the opportunity to attend numerous conferences and training sessions. Immigration is kind of an enigma because one day you walk into the office and federal procedures have completely changed. With the conferences, you get a firsthand playbook of what is soon to come.  Panel members and experts at conferences will say “Here’s what you should work on because I work on the Hill and this bill is in the works..”. I do have the opportunity to reach out to the other Equal Justice Works fellows for networking, but I have so much support here at The Advocates because I don’t really have to reach out much.

Tell us about your job. What are the core component and responsibilities?

I represent unaccompanied minors seeking asylum here in the United States. I represent children who have come here without their parents/guardians.   I represent these children because they have experienced such terrible persecution that they cannot return to their home countries. These children are forgoing the opportunity to see their families, friends, or their countries of origin in applying for asylum.  That is how grave their persecution is. I advocate for them in court and also help them with their asylum applications. I gather corroborating evidence – stories from other family members, country condition reports, documents of identification, to support their stories.  I also assist them with their asylum interview. I get to litigate, practice, and of course use my legal writing and research skills to draft legal briefs and other documentation. I get to be a resource for them outside of their legal needs. These children to the U.S. come without financial and emotional stability. Thank God for the resources of The Advocates. I’ve been able to make referrals for dentists, doctors, therapists, school, ESL classes, and so many other things. I also serve as a resource for pro bono attorneys who take on these cases because most of our pro bono attorneys are not immigration attorneys. They’re just wonderful people who want to do something more. So I’m always in touch with pro bono attorneys. I also help clients who have other claims. Sometimes clients will come in with an asylum claim, but we’ll discover that they also have a U-visa claim, or a T-visa claim.

So I keep my clients informed about their rights, I connect pro bono attorneys, and I also help to conduct trainings and outreach Throughout Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Describe your typical day/ week at work.

I don’t have an answer for that. I come in and fill up my water bottle – that is the most consistent thing about a day at The Advocates. I love not having the same thing to do every day. I will make a schedule for myself, and all of that will be tossed out of the window. There will be a walk-in person and they have a filing deadline next week, or a need that is urgent. I really have to flexible and detailed to make sure that these needs are met.  My typical day, depends on the need.

It’s all a matter of prioritizing. I do like to make sure that whatever a client needs – they have.  However, it’s important to assess your capabilities and your time.  Most of our clients’ needs are urgent and real, so it’s very important to prioritize. Checking in with my supervisor helps me to best allot my time and resources.

What kinds of problems do you face on a day-to-day basis?

There’s just not enough time in the day. I think this is true of any organization that serves a public interest need

What do you like least about working at The Advocates?

That there aren’t enough hours in a day.

What do you like most about working in this field?

The kids. Oh my gosh. I attribute this to my height, but every time I meet with a client, they’re taller than they were at the previous meeting. Just seeing their progression, and how happy they are gives me such joy. They’re great people. All children deserve health and happiness, and they deserve a chance at life.

How old are your clients?

My youngest client is 6. My oldest is 17.

What is it like to work for this particular organization? How would you describe the culture at The Advocates?

I appreciate how much autonomy I have to do my work. No one micromanages you. Supervisors will check in, but you’re given a lot of freedom and chances to mold what ever it is you need to do to provide the best representation to your client.

It’s a welcoming environment. I have never been afraid to ask a question – and that’s not common in the legal field.  Even though I’m a fellow, I feel like I am part of the team. We are all working together for the common good. There is no ego. Working with the Refugee & Immigrant Program has been amazing.

Why did you decide to work in this field and how did you get started? Tell us about your career path that led you to this job.

I always knew I wanted to do something in the legal field. When I was 14, I went with my church, Mt. Gilead Full Gospel International Ministries, to Uganda. At the time there was this huge civil war. I was charged with children’s’ ministry.  So many children had been orphaned because of the war. So I was teaching, providing them with resources, and food. This was my first international trip. And after left I knew I wanted to change the world for the better. I didn’t know in what capacity at that time.  Immigration is the current avenue I’m pursuing in order to change the world for the better.

What experience best prepared you for this job?

Missionary work, without a doubt best prepared me for this position. I will say that one of my mentors, Pastor Julian Dangerfield, took me aside one day when we were in Uganda. I was a teenager who had a bit of an attitude that day because things weren’t necessarily going the way I planned.  He gave me some of the most important advice I’ve ever received: “Go with the flow and take the low road.” That moment for me was vital in my growth, both as a person and as professional. It’s not about you – you are serving people that have a need that is greater than you’ll ever imagine. It is not about being seen as the hero. You have to let go of your ego.

What do you wish you had known starting out in this field? What would you do differently if you were to do it again?

I wish I would have known how new government changes were going to impact the field of immigration, and the impact has been fear. I’ve had clients not show up to court because they think it’s better to have a low profile. We have one client whose mother is eligible for three claims of relief, but she doesn’t feel as though she should pursue them. I wish I would have prepared myself to answer some of those questions and to address those fears. But it’s a good time to be in this position, if you are passionate about the law and serving others.

Tell us about your career path.

My first internship ever was with the Catholic Charities – it was a summer internship and I was helping refugees get bus passes and furniture for their new apartments. This was my first introduction to refugee and immigration work.

In law school I started with a clerkship for the Honorable Margaret M. Marrinan. This experience was incredible. I learned that I wanted to be a litigator and I that wanted to be in court. My second-year summer of law school, I wanted to try international corporate law, so I worked for a firm in Africa. I loved the international work and being in Africa, but I still felt guilty. I was serving a country, but I still didn’t feel like I was helping the most vulnerable populations.

So I ended up coming back and working as a legal consultant with Mano a Mano, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, and then interned for the NAACP.  There was, and still is, a huge issue with police brutality, so I collaborated with the President of the St. Paul chapter for students to know their rights. We created these programs to help them understand the constitution.

After law school I started working in business immigration I loved learning about business immigration, but still needed to do a little more to feel fulfilled.  In that role, I saw this opportunity with the Advocates, and I jumped on it.

Would you recommend a law and/or a graduate in specific areas?

I think a law degree is helpful, but if you don’t have one that doesn’t mean you can’t help.  There are people who assist and advocate for clients in many other ways.  If you have time, resources, or a skill, please get involved because the need is indeed great.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in getting involved?

Just do it.

If you feel like it, jump in and help. You are needed.

Read Courtnie Gore’s reflections and the tips she has learned in her first year of working with clients who are unaccompanied minors in Preparing a Minor for an Asylum Interview: Five Challenges.

 

 

 

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How The Advocates brings the stories of women and children fleeing violence to the international stage

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The Human Rights Council chambers in Geneva, Switzerland. UN Photo/Elma Okic. Source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56915#.WjhEE7T83_Q

Since 2014, a growing number of women and children fleeing gender-based violence in Guatemala have requested legal assistance from The Advocates in applying for asylum in the United States. Using information from interviews with these clients, The Advocates documented violence against women in Guatemala and submitted a stakeholder report to the United Nations Human Rights Council for consideration during Guatemala’s third-cycle Universal Periodic Review, which took place on November 8, 2017.

Violence against women remains a serious problem in Guatemala, especially as the country continues to struggle to implement protective measures and programs. In the first ten months of 2015, the public ministry reported receiving 11,449 reports of sexual or physical aggression against women. In the first seven months of 2015, there were 29,128 complaints of domestic violence against women and 501 violent deaths of women.

Due to lack of protection and high rates of impunity, many women choose to leave the country rather than face potential reprisals and stigma. Domestic violence is also a significant push factor for unaccompanied child migrants.

The Advocates is able to help these women and children in two important ways: providing legal assistance in their asylum cases and using their experiences to advocate at the United Nations for law and policy changes in their home country of Guatemala.

There are several steps involved in bringing these individual stories to an international stage.

First, The Advocates drafted a report documenting violence against women in Guatemala, based on research on country conditions and client interviews. The Advocates submitted this stakeholder report to the Human Rights Council for consideration during Guatemala’s Universal Periodic Review. After the report was complete, I drafted a two-page summary that outlined the key information and suggested recommendations. I then reviewed countries that made recommendations to Guatemala during its second UPR in 2012, and selected 27 countries to lobby based on their past support for eliminating gender-based violence. I emailed these countries, thanking them for their interest in women’s issues and updating them on the status of past recommendations they made to Guatemala. I sent them the full report on Guatemala as well as the summary document.

The purpose of lobbying other countries is twofold— to alert the country to the dire situation in Guatemala and to provide suggested recommendations based on our report. The country under review must acknowledge the recommendations, which can serve as a rebuke for missteps as well as a blueprint for areas to improve.

For example, Guatemala received and accepted recommendations during its second-cycle UPR in 2012 to strengthen the 2008 Law Against Femicide. In order to implement these recommendations, the government established several agencies and institutions to give effect to the law, and created lower level courts. Yet weak implementation of these tools meant there was little reduction in levels of violence against women. In addition, there is no law against sexual harassment, despite its ubiquity. The partial implementation of these 2012 recommendations speaks to the importance of creating targeted recommendations, the success of which can be measured on a defined timeline.

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The delegation from Guatemala, led by H.E. Mr Jorge Luis Borrayo Reyes, President of the Presidential Coordinating Commission of Guatemala, delivers an introductory statement during the November 8th, 2017 UPR of Guatemala. Source: http://webtv.un.org/search/guatemala-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5639386301001/?term=&lan=english&cat=UPR%2028th&sort=date&page=3#

After the UN published the recommendations made during the November 8th UPR, I reviewed them to determine the success of our lobbying efforts. Of the 27 countries we contacted, seven of them made recommendations, five of which Guatemala accepted. Interestingly, the number of VAW-specific recommendations made to Guatemala remained fairly constant from 2012 (30 recommendations) to 2017 (31), but the makeup of the countries making the recommendations changed. In 2017, 77% of the VAW recommendations were made by countries that did not make a VAW recommendation in 2012. This shift suggests that a wider group of countries is taking note of the situation in Guatemala and willing to use their platform at the UN to advocate for women. It also suggests we should expand our lobbying efforts to target additional countries.

I was pleased to see the following recommendation from Spain, a country we targeted with our lobbying:

“Allocate sufficient resources to specialized courts and tribunals with jurisdiction over femicide and other forms of violence against women as well as move towards the full implementation of the Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women.”

 

Guatemala photo 3 Spain gives rec
Mr. Emilio Pin, the representative to the UN Human Rights Council from Spain, delivers Spain’s recommendations to Guatemala during the November 8th UPR. Source: http://webtv.un.org/search/guatemala-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5639386301001/?term=&lan=english&cat=UPR%2028th&sort=date&page=3#

This recommendation indicates that Spain acknowledges steps Guatemala has taken (specialized tribunals, partial implementation of the Law against Femicide) and points out a key gap in the implementation of these efforts: lack of government resources.

It’s incredibly powerful to see this recommendation and other calls to action that grew out of The Advocates’ client testimonies.

Guatemala accepted 28 of the 31 VAW-specific recommendations and will have five years before its next review to work on implementing them. I hope, the country will continue to build on past work and use the recommendations made during this review to effect meaningful change.

By Laura Dahl, a 2017 graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Global Studies and Neuroscience. She is a Fall 2017 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

This post is the second in a series on The Advocates’ international advocacy.  The series highlights The Advocates work with partners to bring human rights issues in multiple countries to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Additional post in the series include:

The Advocates’ lobbying against the death penalty packs a big punch at the Universal Periodic Review of Japan

Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

Featured

The Advocates’ lobbying against the death penalty packs a big punch at the Universal Periodic Review of Japan

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Map of the world based on countries’ death penalty status. Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/maps-and-graphics/countries-that-still-have-the-death-penalty/

Japan is one out of the fifty eight countries (including the United States) where the death penalty is still legal and actively carried out. In Japan, crimes punishable by execution include murder, terrorism, arson, and treason. Based on reports from the Japan Innocence & Death Penalty Information Center, 106 people have been executed since 1993, and as of November 2017, 126 people are currently on death row.

Hanging is the main method of execution in Japan, and is carried out in an isolated penal institution. The Japanese Government severely restricts people on death row from having contact with the outside world. Within the detention center, the communication of people on death row is strictly limited; only lawyers and close relatives are allowed to visit death row inmates. Furthermore, people sentenced to death are informed of their impending execution only on the morning of the execution. The Japanese government insists that such last-minute notification inflicts less psychological pain on people sentenced to death.

After learning of the death penalty policies and practices in Japan, we wanted to see how advocacy against the death penalty from various sources (civil society, states, stakeholders, etc.) could make a tangible impact. These issues regarding Japan’s death penalty and prison conditions have prompted criticism from domestic and international human rights organizations. A systematic mechanism for the organizations to raise these concerns is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

The Universal Periodic Review: What is it?

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Japan’s Review during the 28th Session of the Universal Periodic Review, 14 November 2017 Source:http://webtv.un.org/search/japan-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5644308605001/?term=japan&lan=english&cat=Human%20Rights%20Council&sort=date

Every four and a half years, countries are required to undergo a Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council. All UN member states – 193 countries in total – are required to participate in the UPR process, whereby they are subjected to review by the United Nations and are given the opportunity to report their progress on human rights issues and to receive and respond to recommendations from other countries.

The UPR process is structured in a way that allows for feedback from the state under review, as well as from on-the-ground non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can submit stakeholder reports with firsthand accounts of the government’s failure to respect human rights. These stakeholder reports ensure that the Human Rights Council gets an accurate, well-rounded picture of the human rights situation in the state under review before the UPR’s “interactive dialogue.”

The Advocates’ UPR lobbying pays off

The Advocates for Human Rights works with other stakeholders to research and submit reports for consideration in the UPR process. Once the reports are submitted, The Advocates continues its efforts by contacting delegations of other UN member countries and lobbying them to make recommendations to the country under review. This lobbying can be done in person or via email. Oftentimes, these recommendations pertain to a single issue. The Advocates’ lobbying process for the November 2017 UPR of Japan provides a window into this type of UPR advocacy.

In preparation for the 28th Session of the Universal Periodic Review, The Advocates submitted a stakeholder report in conjunction with The Center for Prisoners’ Rights in Japan and The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. (Readers can access the full report on The Advocates’ website.) After submitting the stakeholder report, The Advocates reached out to several country representatives to raise its concerns on the issue of the death penalty in Japan.

The Advocates sent emails lobbying against the death penalty in Japan to 26 countries. Of the 26 countries contacted, 21 countries made recommendations at Japan’s UPR dialogue (the other five were not present at Japan’s UPR). Twenty of these countries made recommendations in line with The Advocates’ lobbying. These recommendation included the following:

  • Immediately impose an official moratorium on the use of the death penalty (Australia, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland)
  • Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which aims at abolishing the death penalty (Argentina, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, Uruguay)
  • Amend the Act on Penal Detention Facilities and Treatment of Inmates to ensure detention conditions meet international standards (Netherlands)
  • Open up a public debate and take concrete steps toward ending the death penalty (Belgium, France, Mexico, Norway, Rwanda, UK)

Beyond these twenty states, other representatives also made recommendations about the death penalty, echoing one or more of The Advocates’ recommendations. In total, 42 out of the 105 country representatives – a whopping 40% – participating in Japan’s UPR addressed the death penalty, demonstrating the strong international pressure for change in the country’s legal system. 

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Country representatives of those who strongly recommended an end to the death penalty in Japan. Top row (from left to right): Mr. Suresh Adhikari, Nepal; Mr. Charles Kent, UK; and Ms. Laura Aubry, Switzerland. Middle row: Ms. Katarina Andric, Croatia; Mr. Curtis Peters, Canada; and Ms. Herborg F. Alvsaaker, Norway. Bottom row: Ms. Veronika Bard, Sweden; Ms. Lone Thorup, Denmark; and Ms. Monique T.G. Van Daalen, the Netherlands. Source:http://webtv.un.org/search/japan-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5644308605001/?term=japan&lan=english&cat=Human%20Rights%20Council&sort=date

Japan’s Response

In a closing statement at the UPR session, Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura and other representatives from the Japanese Government responded to the recommendations offered by other UN member countries. The Japanese delegates asserted the use of the death penalty in Japan is “unavoidable” and an immediate moratorium on the death penalty would be “inhumane” to the prisoners currently on death row, because such an act would arouse their hopes for abolition of the death penalty. The delegation rejected recommendations to convert death sentences to life imprisonment, asserting that a life sentence is a “very harsh punishment” and expressing great concern that the “character of the inmate will be destroyed due to prolonged confinement.”

Perhaps the most puzzling response from the Japanese Government was on the issue of notifying death row inmates of their execution on the morning on the execution. Government representatives asserted that an “inmate’s mental and psychological stability could be undermined and pain could be inflicted upon [them] if [they] were to inform about execution before the day of the execution.” As The Advocates’ noted in its report, the daily stress of not knowing the date of an impending execution certainly does even more to undermine the inmate’s mental and psychological stability.

After viewing the entire UPR session, we see that Japan is making strides in many areas of its human rights practices and policies. But progress in some areas does not erase the injustice of the continued practice of the death penalty and poor detention conditions. At the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group report, Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura stated: “There is no end to the promotion and protection of human rights.” The death penalty violates the most fundamental human right: the right to one’s own life. We hope Japan and the fifty seven other countries that actively the death penalty soon realize that this right is fundamental and act accordingly.

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Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura (front row, second from the left), the Representative of the Government of Japan and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Human Rights. Source: http://webtv.un.org/search/japan-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5644308605001/?term=japan&lan=english&cat=Human%20Rights%20Council&sort=date

By Emma Lind and Xuemeng Yao.

Emma Lind is a 2017 graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota with degrees in International Human Rights and Psychology. She is a 2017 fall intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

Xuemeng Yao is a junior at Macalester College with a major in Sociology. She is a 2017 fall intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

This post is the first in a series on The Advocates’ international advocacy.  The series highlights The Advocates’ work with partners to bring human rights issues in multiple countries to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Additional post in the series include:

How The Advocates brings the stories of women and children fleeing violence to the international stage

Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

Featured

Trafficking of Rohingya Refugees

Rohingya refugees
Photo credit: Getty Images

In July, the New York Times reported that a prominent, former Thai general had been  sentenced to nearly three decades in prison for conspiring in the trafficking of Bangladeshi and Burmese Rohingya, a minority, stateless ethnic group fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Dozens more, including police officers and smugglers, were also convicted of participating in the human trafficking ring after the discovery of several mass graves thought to contain the bodies of migrants were discovered in 2015 near the Thai-Malaysia border, along a route often used to smuggle Rohingya out of Myanmar. The crackdown on trafficking has increased since the mass graves were discovered; this is only one of many Thai authorities that has been caught or suspected of colluding in the trafficking of refugees.

The Rohingya are an Muslim, ethnic minority residing in the Rakhine state of Myanmar and Bangladesh. Increasing abuse, persecution, and displacement has forced the Rohingya to flee to neighboring countries; according to a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 168,000 Rohingya are estimated to have fled the country in the last five years. Although the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, the 1982 Citizenship Law has consistently been used by the government to deny citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, despite recent calls by human rights organizations and the UN General Assembly in 2014 to amend the legislation. The Citizenship Law effectively renders the Rohingya stateless, and it is this stateless status which makes it particularly difficult for the Rohingya to obtain legal status in any other country.

Thailand has consistently been a common destination and transit country for many refugees. However, the Thai government does not recognize the Rohingya as refugees, and therefore does not offer them protection. In fact, Thailand has not yet ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, is not a signatory to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and has no formal national refugee legislation, so all migrants, whether refugee or non-refugee, are processed under the Immigration Act of 1979.

Thus, the Thai government treats asylum seekers as illegal migrants, and arrests and deports them as such. Thai law allows for police to arrest, detain, and fine people who have migrated illegally, even if they are children; because many refugees, particularly the stateless Rohingya, are not able to obtain legal status in Thailand under the Immigration Act of 1979, they are very likely to be subject to abuse by employers and human traffickers or to indefinite detention, abuse, and refoulement by Thai officials, even when the U.N. has recognized their refugee status. In fact, since 2004, the Thai government has not even allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to conduct screenings on Rohingya to determine refugee status.

This lack of protection, from either Thailand, other ASEAN countries, or the UNHCR within Thailand, puts the Rohingya at great risk of trafficking. The struggles of the Rohingya were put under the spotlight in May of 2015, when images emerged of overcrowded boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya from Bangladesh and Myanmar, adrift in the Andaman Sea between Thailand and Malaysia. The migrants had paid smugglers to take them out of Bangladesh and Myanmar, but due to Thailand’s recent crackdown on trafficking, these smugglers soon abandoned the migrants. When their boats neared the shores of Malaysia and Thailand, the refugees were turned away and pushed farther out to sea by authorities, where many perished due to exposure and lack of food and water. Survivors reported suffering horrific abuse at the hands of the traffickers, who beat, killed, and deprived migrants in order to force their families to pay a ransom.

Had they managed to arrive in Thailand, they likely wouldn’t have endured a fate much better. Once they reach the mainland, many migrants are sold by their smugglers to other traffickers, who then hold them in camps along the borders of Thailand. Here, they endure equally gruesome conditions and beatings; in May 2015, Rohingya in camps along the Thailand-Malaysia border were found being held in extremely overcrowded spaces, and even in pens and cages.

Even upon rescue from these camps, migrants are not safe. Because of Thailand’s treatment of refugees as illegal immigrants, refugees found in camps are generally arrested and placed in indefinite detention. Within immigration detention centers, migrants are subject to further abuse by Thai police and officials, who, like traffickers, often beat and harass detainees in order to obtain payment, and sometimes force them to return to Myanmar, an act which violates the international principle of non-refoulement. Further, detention officers sometimes even sell refugees back to the trafficking rings they were rescued from.

Thailand has taken steps in the last decade to combat human trafficking in the country, such as passing a law in 2008 which criminalizes trafficking and details punishments for perpetrators, including imprisonment and fines, and a more recent law in 2016 which expedites the judicial process for trafficking cases. Nonetheless, problems such as inadequate identification procedures for victims of trafficking, low rates of trafficking prosecutions and convictions, and most importantly, Thai official complicity in trafficking persist.

In its 2016 Universal Periodic Review, Thailand received eight recommendations from other state delegations relating to refugees and asylum seekers. It rejected almost all of these recommendations, including those which requested that Thailand offer legal status to refugees and asylum-seekers and that it put an end to arbitrary detention and refoulement of refugees, especially children. In its report, Thailand noted that despite not being party to the international treaties regarding refugees, the country has a “humanitarian tradition” of providing assistance to displaced people. Despite Thailand’s very recent push to prosecute traffickers, the state’s clear involvement in the trafficking and abuse of such displaced people and its refusal to conduct refugee screenings on them would suggest otherwise.

In order to truly demonstrate its commitment and “humanitarian tradition” of helping refugees, Thailand must immediately halt the return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, ratify international treaties relating to refugees and proceed with the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the egregious human rights violations of migrants.

By: Abby Walker, a junior at Carleton College (class of 2019) in Northfield, Minnesota studying sociology, anthropology, and education. She was a 2017 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two photo options below:

 

Thailand Immigration Police bring Rohingya refugees to a port outside Ranong City (October 30, 2013)

 

Two Rohingya refugees in a Thai immigration detention center in Kanchanaburi province (July 10, 2013)

Featured

Young artists share their vision for a world without the death penalty

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Masongezi, a student from the DRC, with his poster. It reads “No to the death penalty”.

Today, October 10, is the World Day Against the Death Penalty.   I am thinking back to a conference I attended in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, just a few weeks ago, on strategies for abolishing the death penalty. The conference, in partnership with Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM), included two full days of presentations, discussions, and exhibitions. ECPM invited me to lead workshops on the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review and on conducting fact-finding to document conditions on death row in the DRC.

I found one part of the conference to be particularly powerful. As part of ECPM’s “Draw Me the Abolition” project, students around the world submitted illustrations of their conceptions of the death penalty. Four Congolese finalists were awarded diplomas at the conference and we were able to see all of the winning artwork on display. Their illustrations serve as a powerful testament to the harsh realities of the death penalty.

Below are some of the Congolese finalists and their extraordinary artwork, along with other winning posters. The illustrations, rife with pain, are indicative of the injustice of the death penalty.

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Mr. Nicolas Perron, Program Director of the ECPM, presents a diploma to one of the artists.

 

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Artwork on display by students from the DRC. “Non a la piene de mort” translates to “No to the death penalty”.

 

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A visual representation of the five countries with the largest number of executions in 2016. China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States topped the list.
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“The death penalty- a suffering for the family of the condemned.” This image depicts the ripple effect the death penalty has upon the people close to those executed.
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Mbuyi, a student from the DRC, with his artwork.
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Monungu, from the DRC, displays his poster which translates to “Why kill? No! To the death penalty”.
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“Together to cut the ropes and the death penalty” drawn by a Tunisian student.
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Artwork on display by Pakistani students.
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Posters by German finalists.
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Artwork by Mexican and Taiwanese students. The red poster reads, “We are not the god of death, we should not deprive people’s lives.”
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French student artwork. The second poster from the left reads, “To execute is to break a family.” The second poster from the right reads, “In 12 countries of the world, people are executed for homosexuality.”

Take action

  • Which posters do you find most compelling? Share this blog post to spread the word
  • Attend the upcoming screening of The Penalty at the Twin Cities Film Fest (Wednesday, Oct. 25, 7:20 pm) and stay for the post-film discussion, including The Advocates’ Executive Director Robin Phillips
  • Follow The Advocates for Human Rights and The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty on social media
  • Share why you oppose the death penalty on social media, using the hashtag #NoDeathPenalty
  • Organize an event in your community
  • Write to a prisoner on death row
  • Call on the federal government to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty
  • If you live in a state that still has the death penalty, call on your elected officials to end the death penalty and call on prosecutors to stop seeking the death penalty

By Amy Bergquist, The Advocates’ International Justice Program staff attorney.

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Abolishing the Death Penalty: in Memory of John Thompson

By Amy Bergquist

Amy John T

“Very sad news,” the subject line read. One week ago today, Elizabeth Zitrin, the former president of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, emailed me to let me know that John Thompson had died.

October 10 is the fifteenth World Day Against the Death Penalty, and it’s an appropriate occasion to reflect on John’s life and the “deadly mix” of poverty and justice.

Connick v. Thompson: John Thompson’s case goes to the Supreme Court

I first learned about John’s extraordinary life in 2010, when I was a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Supreme Court clerks see a lot of death penalty cases, and usually they are gut wrenching last-minute appeals before a person is executed. But John’s was different. He was indisputably an exoneree—he spent 18 years in prison—14 of them on death row—before being released on account of what my local newspaper’s obituary quaintly refers to as “evidentiary problems.” Prosecutors, violating John’s constitutional right to a fair trial, had suppressed evidence proving his innocence.

John sued the district attorney’s office, then headed by Harry Connick, Sr., and the jury awarded him $14 million—one million dollars for every year he spent on death row. The conservative-leaning U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the jury award, concluding that Thompson had proven that Connick was deliberately indifferent to the obvious need to train prosecutors on their duties to disclose evidence.

The Supreme Court, split 5-4, took away the jury’s verdict. The majority asserted that John’s case involved only a “single incident” of prosecutor misconduct, even though multiple attorneys had played a role in the suppression of multiple pieces of evidence. And because it was a “single incident,” Connick’s failure to train his prosecutors on evidence disclosure did not rise to the level of “deliberate indifference” to Thompson’s constitutional rights because those constitutional violations were not an obvious consequence of Connick’s failure to train.

Justice Ginsburg authored the dissent, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. As she does once or twice a term, when she feels particularly strongly about a case, she summarized her dissent from the bench. She wrote that the constitutional violations in John’s case “were not singular and they were not aberrational. They were just what one would expect given the attitude toward [evidentiary disclosure] pervasive in the District Attorney’s Office. Thompson demonstrated that no fewer than five prosecutors . . . disregarded his [constitutional] rights. He established that they kept from him, year upon year, evidence vital to his defense. Their conduct . . . was a foreseeable consequence of lax training in, and absence of monitoring of, a legal requirement fundamental to a fair trial.”

He needed no introduction

In June, I was in Washington DC for the biannual meeting of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, and the organizers had prepared an ice-breaker activity to encourage Coalition members to get to know each other. John Thompson was attending as a member of the Board of Directors of Witness to Innocence, another member of the Coalition. As part of the ice-breaker, as fate would have it, John’s task was to find me and introduce himself.

He needed no introduction. It’s a rare occasion for a former Supreme Court clerk to meet a litigant whose case had been before the Court during her clerkship, particularly a case so memorable that, on the day the majority handed down its opinion stripping John of his jury award, Justice Ginsburg had donned her “dissenting collar” and dissented from the bench.

I apologized to John that his case hadn’t come out in his favor. John just shook his head and shared my disappointment for a moment, but then he was ready to move on. We talked about Witness to Innocence and The Advocates, and out of our conversation bubbled up the idea of reaching out to jurors who had sentenced people to death who had later been exonerated. John wondered whether the jurors in his case even knew he had been exonerated, and how such information would make them feel, having found him guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Resurrection After Exoneration

What struck me most about John was his resilience. He was arrested in 1984 at the age of 22, and released only in 2003, at the age of 41. He had survived six execution dates, but during his time in prison he missed the opportunity to watch his two children grow up, was denied the chance to go to college or start a career, and even missed out on such mundane things as learning to use email.

Yet upon release, John hit the ground running. He founded an organization called Resurrection After Exoneration. As he explained:

Exonerated prisoners (exonerees) and returning long-term prisoners re-enter the free world with high hopes of a fresh start but are soon trapped in the cycle of poverty and disillusionment that led to their original imprisonment. To enable us to break this cycle, I will create for us a positive understanding of life’s potential and for society an understanding that recidivism (even by exonerees) is caused by lack of opportunity. If returning prisoners succeed, the whole community benefits.

Returning prisoners are people stripped of self-sufficiency, control and autonomy. In response, I came up with the idea of an exoneree-run re-entry program: Resurrection After Exoneration. The program has been designed to empower us to regain these attributes by creating an opportunity to rise up as individuals and say “I can do this”, rather than having someone else tell us “You must do this.”

John used his facebook page to share joy and love. In addition to proud photos of his grandchildren, he shared videos of “incredible stories” and affirmations to “stay strong!”

2017WorldDayPosterENPoverty and justice: A deadly mix

John’s observation that “poverty and disillusionment” had led to wrongful convictions, and were often waiting at the prison gate after exonerees’ release, highlights the saliency of the theme of this year’s World Day Against the Death Penalty, Poverty and Justice: A Deadly Mix. The Equal Justice Initiative estimates that 95% of all people on death row in the United States come from disadvantaged economic backgrounds.

How did John even become a suspect in the crimes he did not commit? As a 22-year-old self-described “small-time weed dealer” trying to support his two children, he bought a ring and a gun from the murderer, not knowing that the ring was the victim’s and the gun was the murder weapon. His public defender didn’t press prosecutors when the blood sample that would later prove John’s innocence was not in the evidence locker when he went to inspect the evidence before trial.

Proving John’s innocence wasn’t cheap. The pro bono team that had taken on John’s case had run out of options, and at the 11th hour they decided to hire a private investigator to dig through some microfiche. That private investigator uncovered the blood evidence that prosecutors had concealed.

It’s likely that a suspect with ample financial resources never would have been tried, much less convicted and held on death row for 14 years, with a similar set of facts and evidence.

A worldwide problem

People from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds around the world are more vulnerable to be sentenced to death than others. A recent study conducted by the National Law University of New Delhi found that 74% of people sentenced to death in India are from economically vulnerable backgrounds. A study in Nigeria found that the overwhelming majority of people on that country’s death row are economically disadvantaged.

The World Coalition has identified many factors that illustrate the injustices people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds face in death penalty cases around the world:

  1. Unequal access to education and information. People living in poverty often lack a formal educational background that would enable them to understand and participate fully in legal proceedings initiated against them, and that would empower them to assert their rights under the law.
  2. Bail and pretrial release. A person who obtains pretrial release is better able to prepare a defense, yet people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds often cannot afford bail to secure their release.
  3. Access to counsel. In India, for example, 89% of prisoners sentenced to death did not have legal representation before their first magistrate hearing, even though the law entitles them to such representation.
  4. Effectiveness of legal counsel. In many jurisdictions, the legal counsel the state provides to indigent defendants is less effective than the legal counsel that more affluent defendants can hire. These state-appointed attorneys may be less experienced, underpaid, and overworked. As Clive Stafford Smith, founder of the NGO Reprieve, put it, “The death penalty is not for the worst criminal, it’s for the person with the worst lawyer.”
  5. Cost of building a strong defense. In Nigeria, for example, if a suspect is not able to pay for gasoline, the police will not travel to see witnesses to assess the suspect’s alibis. Expert witnesses and witnesses to rebut the state’s evidence can also be costly.
  6. Bias and discrimination. Whether the sentence is pronounced by a judge or a jury, finders of fact often harbor explicit or implicit biases against people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
  7. Corruption. In many countries where corruption is prevalent, a defendant must pay bribes to have petitions heard or even to meet with counsel. In Nigeria, police often release a suspect in exchange for payment. Colleagues in Malaysia tell me that even though the law requires prosecutors to disclose evidence to the defense, they often fail to do so and face no legal consequences.
  8. Conditions on death row. The conditions of detention on death row often depend on the financial resources of the convicted person. In some countries, a prisoner without access to financial resources may have difficulty accessing health care or quality food.
  9. Family. Being charged with a death-eligible crime and sentenced to death can place a heavy financial toll on the person’s family. Family members often sacrifice every available resource to assist with the person’s defense, driving the family further into poverty.

In memory of John Thompson, I would add to this list that exonerees are often deprived of compensation that would help them rebuild their lives. In a 2013 I attended a powerful meeting of Journey of Hope . . . From Violence to Healing, where I learned that in many states, prisoners sentenced to death are not eligible to participate in prison education and vocational training, because such programs are “not consistent with their sentence.” And as John noted, in many states exonerees aren’t even eligible for the job training programs that parolees get, because exonerees aren’t on parole.

Take action

John Thompson was one of the lucky ones. The Supreme Court stripped him of the jury’s $14 million award, but he persisted, using his 14 years of freedom to make the world a better place by fighting for criminal justice reform, for accountability for prosecutorial misconduct, and for much-needed services to assist exonerees.

You can make a difference, too. The goal of World Day 2017 is to raise public awareness of the reasons people living in poverty are at greater risk of the death penalty. Here are some things you can do:

  • Share this post with your family and friends
  • Attend the upcoming screening of The Penalty at the Twin Cities Film Fest (Wednesday, Oct. 25, 7:20 pm) and stay for the post-film discussion, including The Advocates’ Executive Director Robin Phillips
  • Read John Thompson’s op-ed called “The Prosecution Rests, but I Can’t,” published soon after the Supreme Court’s decision in his case
  • Follow The Advocates for Human Rights and The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty on social media
  • Share why you oppose the death penalty on social media, using the hashtag #NoDeathPenalty
  • Organize an event in your community
  • Write to a prisoner on death row
  • Call on the federal government to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty
  • If you live in a state that still has the death penalty, call on your elected officials to end the death penalty and call on prosecutors to stop seeking the death penalty

Amy Bergquist is a staff attorney in The Advocates’ International Justice Program.Amy and John Thompson

 

Featured

Preparing a Minor for an Asylum Interview: Five Challenges

Editor’s Note: The Advocates for Human Rights works with hundreds of refugees seeking asylum. In this post, Courtnie Gore, the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow in our Refugee and Immigrant Program, reflects on five challenges and tips she has learned in her first year of working with 34 clients who are unaccompanied minors.

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Drawings by children represented by legal fellow Courtnie Gore
  1. Establishing trust. In a first meeting with a child, I have to remember that this child has met a lot of “me’s.” That is to say, they have sat across a table from a stranger who asks very invasive questions. They are scared and don’t trust me. So, my initial approach is just to relate to them. I ask them to draw a picture of their home in the country they came from. This allows the child not to think about the painful circumstances that brought them into my office. I have them describe everything in the picture. They beam up with pride when they talk about the fruit  in front of their house, their neighbors, or pets they’ve left behind. From that point on, we can talk more about their time in their home country–the good,  the bad, and the persecution.
  2. Understanding their immediate situation. While the child needs to be able to share their story with us, we also have to realize there’s a lot they might lack in their day-to-day lives. It’s important to understand what is going on in their current home and whether their basic needs are being met. Unaccompanied minors often have a strong sense of loyalty to whomever takes them into their home here in the U.S. Thus, they may be hesitant to share details that would paint a relative or guardian in a bad light. Some undocumented guardians mCat drawingay have concerns about going to court or taking the minor to get his or her fingerprints taken. It’s important to address these concerns so you and the client can focus on the case.
  3. Listening deeply. A child doesn’t tell a linear story. That means we have to do a lot of piecing the puzzle together. A child may tell you their relative raped them. What they won’t tell you is that their grandmother often left them alone with the uncle, who is a known drunk and abuser. It’s important to confirm events and put the stories in chronological order. Putting all the pieces of the puzzle together is essential.
  4. Practicing for the asylum interview. This is one of the most challenging parts of the interview prep process. The asylum interview is a whole different ballgame–it’s like starting at square one. The child will be sitting across the desk from yet another stranger. At that point we have to make sure they are not vague, shy, or prone to retract back to how they were when they first came to our office. We have to prepare the child-client for the worst. Asylum officers have asked questions like, “Did your parents pay for you to come here?” to “Why didn’t you live with another relative?” in domestic abuse cases. You have to prepare the child for whatever might come.
  5. Coming to closure. The asylum interview could possibly be the last time you see a client. Some clients are okay with that. However, some are left feeling extremely vulnerable. It is important to follow up with them to see what additional referrals or needs they might have, such as medical attention, therapy, or other resources.

In September, I was thrilled to learn that my first client, an 11-year-old boy from Guatemala, was granted asylum. That day, I discovered that representing unaccompanied minors is as rewarding as it is challenging.

By Courtnie Gore, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow at The Advocates for Human Rights

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My Domestic Violence Monitoring Mission to Montenegro

FeaturedMy Domestic Violence Monitoring Mission to Montenegro

By Angela Liu, Dechert LLP

“Domestic violence is a “style of communication between the parties.”  It is the “victim’s choice . . . to be communicated to her with violence.”

My jaw dropped.

I then quickly pulled myself together from a momentary state of shock as I listened to a mediator in Montenegro matter-of-factly explain his thoughts on domestic violence. By this point in our mission, I kept thinking that I would get used to the way our interviewees spoke about domestic violence. After all, we had spent an intense week in six cities throughout the country — from the Albanian border to the Serbian border — interviewing members of Parliament, judges, prosecutors, police, social workers, doctors, and even the victims themselves. But in each interview, like in this one with the mediator, I always learned something new.

As a white collar and securities litigator at Dechert LLP, an international law firm, I joined the monitoring mission with The Advocates for Human Rights to Montenegro, having never done any domestic violence work, let alone traveled to the Balkans. But I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity when our firm committed its resources to pursue the monitoring mission in Montenegro in 2015, a country that was a part of the former Yugoslavia and gained its independence in 2006.

Having the honor of learning from Rosalyn Park and Amy Bergquist, two impressive Advocates attorneys at the forefront of the human rights movement, we paired up in teams and started each day early in the morning traveling to a new city so that we could begin interviewing around 9 a.m. Our days were packed with organized interviews that very rapidly revealed that domestic violence was not only a widespread problem in Montenegro – it was also a very private one. I was struck how I took for granted our comparably victim-centered laws, practices, and education, as I heard story after story about how keeping the family together – as opposed to keeping the victims safe – came first. I witnessed the defense and excusal of offenders as interviewees pushed back about depriving offenders their rights: “where will the offender go if evicted?” was a reoccurring theme. In interview after interview, I heard about the lack of coherent coordination and adequate resources. And for the first time, as an associate, I viscerally understood why the rule of law and even how our physical courtroom is set up is so important – something I take for granted every day here in the U.S.

What impressed me the most about Montenegro wasn’t just the rugged mountains that explained why the country is called “Black Mountain,” nor was it the coastline that looked like it was straight out of movie. What impressed me the most was undoubtedly the resiliency and strength of the victims of domestic violence. I had the opportunity to interview one such victim who showed me photographs of bruises all over her body that were submitted to the court. She so bravely explained how she came up against road block after road block with every institutional response and is currently mired in multiple court proceedings to tell her side of the story. I saw victims weaving beautiful rugs at a women’s shelter as they heroically learned a new skill to have some form of economic independence. And as we stayed in that same shelter one night, I was moved by the incredibly strong women that are fighting every day with limited resources to help these victims. Our partners Natasa Medjedovic at SOS Hotline for Women and Children Victims of Violence – Niksic and Maya Raicevic at Women’s Rights Center were examples of such strength, who challenged the seemingly accepted notion that “just being a patriarchal society” is an adequate response to the problems these victims face.

Liu Blog Post Photo

Pictured above: Angela Liu, Megan Walsh, Maja Raicevic, Rosalyn Park, Milica Milic, Natasha Medjedovic, Tamara Radusinovic, and Amy Bergquist.

This trip, however, could not have been made possible for me without the support from my firm to which I am very grateful, and I would encourage other firms to continue their support as well. What I took away from the pro bono experience was how just taking the time and honing your own fact finding and deposition skills can impact the laws and practices of an entire country in a tangible way. It’s hard not to fall in love with a profession when you get to practice and develop your skills, let alone in a context where you’re seeing prosecutors, police, and doctors begin to consider using particular laws or protocols while being interviewed; or members of Parliament, judges, and even the victims ask for advice or more training to make their country better.

After two years of work, the 200+ page report based on our mission is now finished. It shines a light on the laws and practices in Montenegro, which will be helpful in advocacy in the country and at the United Nations. I also hope that one day domestic violence will never be known as a chosen style of communication in Montenegro.

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Nevertheless, She Persisted

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Photo credit: Kaia Kegley

In Homer’s epic poem  The Odyssey, Telemachus instructs his mother Penelope:

“Go back to your quarters… Speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all, for mine is the power in the household.”  

The role of women in society has clearly progressed since the days of Homer.  Indeed, women now comprise 20% of the seats in the US Congress – holding 21 seats in the US Senate and 84 seats in the House of Representatives.    Given this progress, you would hope that the days of men trying to publicly silence would be over.  You would especially hope that the efforts to silence women wouldn’t happen in the US Senate to powerful and accomplished women like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.  You would hope that these women would be allowed to speak – and not be subjected to different standards than their male peers.  But, that is not what happened earlier this year.  It is bad enough when ordinary women are silenced – but, the efforts to silence these powerful women sends a troubling message to the girls of my generation.

In  February 2017, by a vote of 49 to 43, Senate Republicans voted to formally silence Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, during the debate over Jeff Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General.  Senator Warren had tried to read into the record a letter written by Coretta Scott King objecting to President Reagan’s nomination of Sessions to the federal courts back in 1986.  In her letter, King said that Sessions used “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  said that Warren had “impugned the motives and conduct  of our colleague from Alabama.”

Senator McConnell then invoked Senate Rule 19 – a  Senate rule that allows the presiding officer to enforce standards of decorum on the Senate floor (“No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words  impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator”) – to stop Senator Warren from speaking.  He then famously said:

“She was warned.  She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

What stands out about Senator McConnell’s  efforts is the rule used to silence Senator Warren has rarely been invoked since its creation was prompted in 1902 after a fistfight erupted on the Senate floor.  It is hard to imagine that Senator Warren’s comments were more egregious than words spoken by men on the Senate floor over the years.  Was it worse than when in 2015 Senator Ted Cruz accused Senator McConnell of lying?  In fact, Bernie Sanders, only a few hours later, read the same letter and was able to finish without interruption.

In early June, two senators interrupted Senator Kamala Harris while she was in the midst of questioning Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein with respect to the independence that would be given to Special Counsel Mueller.  She had limited time – and was seeking a yes or no answer to what she thought was a straightforward question.   She was interrupted for not providing the witness with the “courtesy” for all questions to be answered.  As the former Attorney General of California, Senator Harris is an experienced litigator.  Some observers have argued that she was held to a different standard then many using the same questioning techniques.

This kind of silencing has not just happened to American politicians.  Back in 2011 in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron, told Angela Eagle, a Member of Parliament to “calm down dear”  as she was trying to make a point during a debate in the House of Commons.   Attacking Mr. Cameron’s “patronizing and outdated attitude to women,”  MP Harriet Harman noted:  “Women in Britain in the 21st century do not expect to be told to ‘calm down dear’ by their prime minister.”

The good news  is that, unlike in the times of Homer, the silencing of these women politicians has not gone unnoticed.  Even girls my age are taken aback at what we see as men applying different standards to women.   However, we are even more heartened by the reaction as people across the country spoke up noting the inequality.  Plus, we are heartened by the fact that neither Senator Warren nor Senator Harris wilted at their silencing.  They just continued to speak up using other channels.

The other day I saw a baby onesie with the phrase “Nevertheless,  She Persisted” emblazoned on the front.  Senator McConnell’s words have become a rallying cry for women and even baby girls.  I wonder if Senator McConnell wishes he had just let Senator Warren speak.

By The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger Jenna Schulman.  Jenna is a high school  student in Washington, D.C. 

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Welcome Home Blog Series: Oromos organize and build bridges to hold Ethiopia accountable for human rights abuses

This is the third in the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota. Read additional posts here.

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Samuel Berhanu, one of the founders of the Peace and Justice Committee of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church and United Oromo Voice

 Minnesota is home to not only the largest Oromo community in the United States, but also the largest population of Oromo people outside of Ethiopia. The Oromo people have arrived in Minnesota over the past 30 years as a direct result of political persecution and other human rights abuses in Ethiopia.  Across the diaspora, Oromos continue to actively engage with the politics of their country of origin and encourage the governments of their adopted countries, including the United States, to apply pressure on Ethiopia to improve its human rights record.

 

One such organization is the Peace and Justice Committee of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church in Minneapolis, founded in part by Oromo diaspora member Samuel Berhanu. Samuel and others in his organization are dedicated to introducing Minnesotans to the Oromo people and educating them about the human rights violations Oromos experience at the hands of the Ethiopian government.

History of Persecution by the Ethiopian Government

Despite being the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Oromo people face discrimination based on their ethnicity as well as their real or perceived political opinion. Reports from civil society in Ethiopia reveal the government’s alarming disregard for civil and political rights. These reports include accounts of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, detention without formal charges, prolonged incommunicado detention, inhumane detention conditions, surveillance of government critics, and pressure on the judiciary to rule in the government’s favor. The government’s repressive tactics have stifled political dissent, undermined the independence of the judiciary, and weakened civil society. [The Advocates for Human Rights documented these human rights abuses in the report Human Rights in Ethiopia: Through the Eyes of the Oromo Diaspora, as well as in reports submitted to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child; the UN Committee on the Rights of Persona with Disabilities; and the UN Human Rights Council.

Western States have largely overlooked the plight of the Oromo, instead supporting the Ethiopian government, which is dominated by one ethnic minority group. Since 1991, the United States has identified Ethiopia as an ally in the Horn of Africa and an ally in the war on terror. Samuel explains that, with the largely Muslim populations in neighboring Somalia and Sudan, the United States considers Ethiopia a stabilizing force within the region. Western leaders then use this designation to justify the financial and military support afforded to the Ethiopian government. Ethiopia remains one of Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid from the United States, despite the human rights abuses the Ethiopian government perpetrates.

Mobilizing to Build Bridges

Samuel and other members of the diaspora are working toward changing the United States’ approach to the human rights violations occurring in Ethiopia. The Peace and Justice Committee originally formed as part of the congregation of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church with the goal of influencing the Ethiopian government by appealing to the Western governments. The Peace and Justice Committee has helped build the capacity of the Oromo community to set priorities and engage in advocacy about human rights in Ethiopia.

The Committee worked with The Advocates’ International Justice Program staff attorney Amy Bergquist to organize a two-hour workshop attended by over 50 members of the congregation, as well as other concerned Oromos. At the workshop, participants identified priority issues and explored the different stakeholders who have the power to improve the human rights situation on the ground in Ethiopia. They then mapped out the people and organizations that influence those stakeholders to help Oromos in the diaspora better target their advocacy efforts.

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Oromos participating in an advocacy workshop organized by the Peace and Justice Committee of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church. Photo credit: Amy Bergquist

Since then, the organization has expanded its reach to include non-Christian and non-diaspora members through a new organization called United Oromo Voice. Like the Peace and Justice Committee, United Oromo Voice is devoted to fighting against the injustices and human rights violations committed by the Ethiopian government.  Samuel hopes that United Oromo Voice will encourage Minnesotans to engage with the Committee’s advocacy work.

Facing the challenges ahead

One of the obstacles facing the Peace and Justice Committee is successfully bringing together differing political opinions within the Oromo community. While the diaspora community largely seeks to end the human rights violations in Ethiopia, members disagree on the proper means of achieving that end. Some Oromos seek to work with the Ethiopian government, while others believe that succession is the only solution. Samuel makes a distinction between the role of the diaspora and the role of Oromos who remain in Ethiopia, explaining that at the end of the day, it is up to the people currently in Ethiopia to decide which approach is best. Samuel believes that their role as Oromos in the diaspora should be to provide a voice for Oromos remaining in Ethiopia, appealing to the West to exert pressure internationally.

Like other diaspora community organizations, the biggest obstacle is that members are trying to juggle work, family life, and the importance of the cause. Samuel does not seem to mind the burden, explaining that,

“God brought me here not to just live my own selfish life . . . I have to think of those who can’t make a voice for themselves.”

Our Redeemer Peace and Justice Committee of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church and United Oromo Voice

Website: https://www.oromochurchmn.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oroec/

Volunteer Opportunities: The Peace and Justice Committee along with United Oromo Voice are currently seeking volunteers to assist with their projects and advocacy work. United Oromo Voice needs short-term and long-term volunteers to help with projects including community outreach, diplomacy, advocacy, media, and writing letters to government officials. If you would like to get involved, contact Samuel Berhanu at samueelb@gmail.com.

Learn More: To learn more about human rights violations against the Oromo people in Ethiopia, read:

Oromo Protests One Year On: Looking Back; Looking Forward;

Building Momentum in Geneva with the Oromo Diaspora;

UN Special Procedures Urged to Visit Ethiopia to Investigate Crackdown on Oromo Protests;

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Ethiopian Government Responds to UN Review;

Oromo Diaspora Mobilizes to Shine Spotlight on Student Protests in Ethiopia 

By April Will, a second-year J.D. student (class of 2019) at the University of Minnesota Law School. She was a 2017 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.    

This is the third in the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota. The first blog posts highlighted the contributions of the Karen Organization of Minnesota and the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota.

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All students deserve safe and equal access to education

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Photo credit: Jenna Schulman

On July 13, Education Secretary Betsy Devos began her first steps in re-evaluating the Obama-era policies regarding sexual assault and consent on college campuses by engaging in a series of “listening sessions” for various groups impacted by Title IX and sexual assaults on campus. At issue is the so-called “Dear Colleague” letter issued in 2011 by the Obama Administration which urged institutions to better investigate and adjudicate cases of campus sexual assault. The 19-page letter set standards for universities to follow when investigating and adjudicating sexual assault charges, including using a “preponderance of the evidence” standard (rather than a “clear and convincing evidence” standard). Secretary Devos says she is now looking into whether these police are too tough and whether they deprive students who are accused of their civil rights – noting that “a system without due process ultimately serves no one in the end.”

While Secretary Devos was having her meetings inside the Department of Education, I stood on the steps of the building attending a “Survivor Speakout.” The goal of the Speakout was to highlight the reasons why Title IX’s protections are imperative in ensuring that every student can access an education that is safe and equal. Survivors, loved ones, and advocates alike stood together sharing stories about how their educations have been affected by gender-based violence. I watched as both men and women, young and old, stood together holding signs which read “ ____ needs Title IX because ____”.

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Photo credit: Jenna Schulman

I had two takeaways from the Survivor Speakout. First, Secretary Devos and others must listen to the story of survivors. We cannot go back to the days – which were not so long ago – when student complaints of sexual assaults on campus were dismissed or ignored. We cannot go back to the days when people were scared to come forward. The group Know Your IX is promoting a hashtag on Twitter – hashtag DearBetsy – asking people to post their stories about sexual assault. Before making her determination, I hope that Secretary Devos and others listen to more victims stories.

Second, Secretary Devos and her staff including Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson are doing victims a great disservice when they spread a narrative that many or most of assault allegations on campus are false. In an interview with the New York Times, a week before, in remarking that the investigative process on college campuses has not always been fairly balanced between the accuser and the accused, Ms. Jackson observed that “90 percent” of the accusations fall into the category of “‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.” Ms. Jackson subsequently apologized for those remarks calling them “flippant” and noting that “they poorly characterized the conversations I’ve had with countless groups of advocates.”

Nonetheless, in having this debate, people have to be careful about normalizing a notion that most accusations are false or only the result of a drunken evening. Following Ms. Jackson’s statement, the National Women’s Law Center, joined by over 50 organizations, replied with data Ms. Jackson and Secretary Devos should hear: “ In 2016, the US Department of Justice conducted a climate survey on several campuses to find that an average of 24% of transgender and gender non-conforming students, 23% of female students, and 6% of male students are sexually victimized on campus. This study replicated the findings of federal research conducted in 2007 and 2000. Additionally, a meta- analysis has shown false reports are extremely rare, constituting only 2-8% of complaints.”

Secretary Devos has not revealed her plans — but suggested that she may take action in the near future. She said: “We need to do this right, we need to protect all students and we need to do it quickly.” The current process may not be perfect. However, I hope in making her revisions Secretary Devos remembers the victims. On the steps of the Department of Education during the “Suvivor Speakout” I heard a lot of women with stories to tell. I hope she hears them too – as all students deserve to have a safe and equal access to education.

By The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger Jenna Schulman.  Jenna is a high school  student in Washington, D.C. 

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Burundi: The Human Rights Crisis You May Not Have Heard Of

Protesters carry a Burundi flag during a protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in Bujumbura
Demonstrators carry a Burundian flag during a protest in Bujumbura, Burundi. Photo: Reuters/G. Tomasevic

As an International Justice Program intern with The Advocates for Human Rights, I have encountered many examples of human rights abuses throughout the world. Yet, while the recent drama of domestic politics continues to dominate the attention of American citizens, these international human rights violations go largely unreported and unaccounted for in U.S. media. The ongoing human rights crisis gripping the state of Burundi presents one such example as members of civil society continue to face politically-based violence at the hands of the ruling party.

April 2015 marked the start of a political and human rights crisis in Burundi that has claimed hundreds of lives. Violence flared following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a controversial third term and subsequent, political protests. Police and security forces responded by exercising excessive force and shooting demonstrators indiscriminately.

After a failed coup d’état by military officers in May 2015, the Government intensified its repression of political dissent by suspending most of the country’s independent radio stations. In addition, journalists and human rights defenders face violence and increasing restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression and association. Recently adopted legislation further limits the ability of non-governmental organizations to operate and for civil society to participate in public life. By mid-2015, most of Burundi’s opposition party leaders, independent journalists and civil society activists had fled the country after receiving repeated threats.

The human rights crisis that gripped Burundi in 2015 deepened in 2016 as government forces targeted perceived political opponents with increased brutality. The Burundian National Defense Forces (BNDF) and the Burundian National Intelligence Service (SNR)—often in collaboration with members of the ruling party’s youth league, known as Imbonerakure—committed numerous killings, disappearances, abductions, torture, rape, and arbitrary arrests against the perceived opponents of the ruling party.

For perpetrators of these crimes associated with the ruling party, there is almost total impunity. The ruling party continues to interfere with Burundi’s weak justice system and therefore these human rights abuses are rarely punished. The government’s suspected political opponents have been arrested and held for prolonged periods unlawfully. Ultimately, an average of more than one thousand people fleeing the violence escaped to nearby Tanzania per day in 2016 to join the 250,000 already spread across Eastern Africa.

The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program provides legal representation to individuals seeking asylum.  The Advocates has received direct information about suppression of political opinion in Burundi from survivors fleeing human rights abuses in the country to seek asylum in the United States. Our clients share stories of being accused, often arbitrarily, of supporting anti-government protests. They report police and Imbonerakure members searching their homes, looting their businesses, and arresting, beating and interrogating them and their family members. While each client’s case is different, their experiences confirm that the legal system and policies in Burundi are failing to provide individuals with adequate protection from politically-based violence.

In July, The Advocates for Human Rights submitted a stakeholder’s report to the Universal Periodic Review, identifying specific measures that the Burundian Government should enact to address political suppression in the country.

First, Burundi should combat impunity by systematically and promptly carrying out investigations of criminal activity committed by government affiliates and ensure appropriate compensation for such crimes. In the previous UPR, the Government of Burundi accepted recommendations to continue efforts toward combatting impunity including the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While the Commission was established in 2016, serious concerns exist regarding the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mandate with the expanded use of temporary immunities which have de facto become permanent amnesty schemes. Burundi should then establish an independent mechanism for investigating complaints of torture or ill-treatment at the hands of members of police or security forces to ensure accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations.

Second, the Government should take the necessary steps to ensure that legal systems and policies are in full compliance with Burundi’s international obligations with respect to freedom of expression. During its last UPR, Burundi rejected 15 recommendations related to freedom of expression and association, as well as protections for human rights defenders. Burundi must afford journalists and human rights defenders the freedom to carry out their work independently and without fear of persecution or intimidation.

Overall, Burundi is failing to meet its international obligations to investigate and prosecute political-based violence perpetrated on behalf of the ruling party. Security forces, intelligence services, and Imbonerakure members are repeatedly identified as responsible for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, abductions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and ill-treatment, and sexual violence. The Burundian Government must act to combat impunity and protect civil society members from such human rights violations.

With the ongoing human rights crisis gripping the state of Burundi, members of civil society continue to face politically-based violence at the hands of the ruling party. Unfortunately, these human rights violations continue to go largely unreported and unaccounted for in U.S. media. Although American domestic politics seem to dominate the current political discourse, we all need to remain vigilant and afford these international, human rights violations the attention they deserve.

By April Will, a second-year J.D. student (class of 2019) at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is a 2017 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.  

 The Advocates’ stakeholder submission to the UN Human Rights Council for Burundi’s Universal Periodic Review includes direct information about human rights violations from survivors who have fled Burundi to seek asylum in the United States.  Read the full report here.

Related post:  Giving our asylum clients from Burundi a voice at the United Nations

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Using the UN to Stand Up Against Racism in the U.S.

 

The Advocates for Human Rights has Special Consultative status with the United Nations, allowing us to bring matters of concern to the attention of the UN human rights mechanisms. Volunteer Veronica Clark presented The Advocates for Human Rights’ statement on racism in the United States at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on March 20, 2017.

Mr. Vice President:

The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the rise in hate crimes and incidents of bias targeting racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the United State. Hate crimes are recognized and prosecuted in the U.S.under federal and state laws. Yet 5,850 criminal incidents and 6,885 related bias offenses were reported in 2015. Fifty-nine percent of victims were targeted because of a race/ethnicity/ancestry bias.

Further, policies and practices at the federal, state, and local levels continue to disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities. Racial and national origin bias pervades the U.S. criminal justice system, including widespread use of racial profiling and stark racial disparities in arrests, convictions, and sentencing.

The Advocates for Human Rights encourages Member States, including the U.S., to take concrete action to:

  • Adopt at local, state and national levels comprehensive legislation prohibiting racial profiling;
  • Collect and publish statistics about police stops, searches, and abuse, to monitor trends regarding racial profiling and treatment of minorities by law enforcement;
  • Establish independent oversight bodies within police agencies, with real authority to conduct impartial investigations of all complaints of human rights violations;
  • Provide adequate resources to train law enforcement officials;
  • Assess the disproportionate impact of mandatory minimum sentences on racial and ethnic minorities; and
  • Create a national commission to examine police tactics nationwide, including the use of excessive force, militarization of local police forces and policing of protests.

Thank you.

Related post Hate groups, incidents proliferating in U.S., The Advocates tells UN Human Rights Council

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New Curriculum Uses Personal Stories to Teach Immigration

IHRC lessons

Spurred by the current public rhetoric around immigration, teachers have been reaching out to The Advocates for Human Rights for resources that help their students understand how and why people immigrate to the United States and what they experience once they arrive. The Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) collects personal narratives by contemporary immigrants and refugees that can answer those questions. Working together, The Advocates and the IHRC have created a series of lessons, Teaching Immigration with the Immigrant Stories Project. This free curriculum for grades 8 to adult learners helps students learn about U.S. immigration through immigrants’ personal stories.

Storytelling is at the center of Teaching Immigration. Each unit features several digital stories from the IHRC’s Immigrant Stories Project. Immigrant Stories trains participants to create 3-5 minute original videos about a personal or family immigration experience. Students study these stories within the contexts of the U.S. immigration system, U.S. immigration history, and global migration conditions. For example, while learning about the refugee resettlement system, students watch videos by several refugees explaining their experiences navigating this bureaucracy from refugee camps to new schools in the U.S.

The curriculum includes three units. Each unit contains several lessons, and Units One and Two include optional activities. Teachers may choose any combination of lessons.

“Unit One: Understanding Immigration” introduces students to the many reasons and ways that individuals and families migrate. Students study the global conditions that affect migration and examine individuals’ stories to understand how people make decisions in response to these conditions.

“Unit Two: Refugees and Asylum Seekers” introduces students to the U.S. refugee and

asylum systems. Students study these systems through a human rights perspective and compare the experiences of individual refugees and asylum seekers who have come to the U.S. since World War II.

“Unit Three: Youth, Identity, and Immigration” focuses on the experiences of immigrant youth and immigrants’ children. The unit’s themes include identity, culture, belonging, discrimination, and heritage.

Teaching Immigration builds on the third edition of The Advocates’ Energy of a Nation curriculum. It includes lesson plans, classroom activities, worksheets, background summaries, and up-to-date fact sheets. Teachers may also download PowerPoints explaining complex aspects of the U.S. immigration system. The curriculum is applicable to a variety of subjects, including social studies, history, geography, English, media studies, and literature.

The Advocates and the IHRC believe that personal stories are a powerful tool for developing empathy and understanding how national and global conditions affect individuals and families. Teaching Immigration helps teachers meet academic standards while enriching their lessons with personal immigration narratives. By teaching students to connect these stories to a deeper understanding of contemporary immigration, The Advocates and IHRC hope to provide students with the perspectives to combat xenophobia and transform future immigration debates.  Download the free curriculum at http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/teachingimmigration.html

By Elizabeth Venditto, Immigrant Stories Project Manager, Immigration History Research Center

 The Teaching Immigration curriculum is supported by the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts’ Joan Aldous Innovation Fund.  

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Ensuring Justice: Enforcement of Labor Trafficking and Labor Exploitation Laws

Multiple ChoicesAfter being recruited for a high-paying job in the United States, Hanh left her impoverished community in Vietnam, departing on her quest for the American Dream. Hanh paid a large fee to travel from Vietnam to Minnesota under the assumption that her employer had made all the necessary immigration arrangements. However, this person who had promised Hanh a new life was a labor trafficker who threatened harm to Hanh and her family if she did not submit to servitude. Living in fear of violence and watching her debt swell, Hanh was not only imprisoned by her circumstance but also by her inability to communicate and seek help. Eventually, law enforcement learned of her situation and successfully convicted her trafficker of forced labor, freeing seven others like her in the process.

These stories of labor trafficking are not isolated—in fact, The Advocates has heard reports of more than thirty-six labor trafficking victims in Minnesota. Still, there have only been a handful of criminal convictions under federal law and only two under the Minnesota labor trafficking statute. This disparity suggests that the enforcement of criminal labor and trafficking laws is inadequate and offenders are not being held accountable for their crimes. The Advocates for Human Rights recently published a report, “Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace,” that examines how labor trafficking and exploitation continue to exist in Minnesota.

In this report, The Advocates assesses the possible barriers to prosecution despite the available legal framework. First, The Advocates found that the requirement that victims cooperate in a case in order to receive benefits such as immigration status, originally intended to strengthen prosecution efforts, has instead hampered enforcement. By providing a benefit to a witness, the government risks undermining the witness’ credibility in a criminal case. Secondly, Minnesota’s state criminal labor trafficking law is largely underutilized. Though the state’s broadened definition of a “trafficker” and a “beneficiary” could increase a victim’s access to justice, its lack of use leaves the possibility untested.

The enforcement of labor laws is another vital component to protect victims of labor trafficking. Unfortunately, both federal and state labor laws contain major exemptions that allow abusive employers, including traffickers, to exploit their workers. This is precisely what happened to Jorge. When recruited to come to Minnesota to work in roofing, Jorge trusted his recruiter to help him find jobs and to negotiate his wages since he did not speak English and lacked legal immigration status. This subcontractor, who had Jorge sign over every paycheck, gave Jorge cash back—but only after robbing him of most of the money he had worked for. Based on the Advocates’ research, there are multiple factors which create an environment within which this kind of abuse has become far too common.

First, exemptions to wage and hour laws in agriculture and domestic service remove a level of government oversight which creates trafficking opportunities. In Jorge’s case, his trafficker stole most of his paycheck, but because the cash he gave Jorge met the minimum wage, Jorge could not press charges under wage and hour legislation. Further, he could not make a claim against the larger company that built the homes he worked on because workers must prove the contracting relationship is illegitimate in order to hold the contracting company liable. Accountability is often impossible in the complex web of subcontractors and independent contractors. This, coupled with confusing standards between different federal agencies and state policies, leaves workers ill-equipped to advocate for themselves. Moreover, the lack of coordination on labor exploitation hampers the complaint process. After being referred from one agency to the next, Jorge was forced to cut his losses, find a new job, and sacrifice his pursuit of justice.

This report by The Advocates for Human Rights has highlighted a number of crucial areas of improvement in enforcing criminal labor trafficking and labor exploitation laws. There is a need for training and resources for our law enforcement, community organizations, and other agencies to effectively identify and help protect victims of labor trafficking and exploitation. The following are priority recommendations to help bolster Minnesota’s efforts to improve its fight against trafficking:

· Policy makers need to provide resources for training law enforcement and prosecutors on Minnesota’s labor trafficking laws, including investigative techniques and protections for victims.

· Policy makers need to examine how to provide an accessible system that makes sure workers can recover lost wages in a timely manner and at little to no cost, especially with smaller claims.

To learn more about the recommendations to improve enforcement of labor trafficking and exploitation laws visit The Advocates’ website at http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/labor_trafficking_report.

By Hannah Mangen , a student at The University of Minnesota in Saint Paul (class of 2018) with a major in Global Studies and Communication. She currently works as a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.

This post is the fourth in a series on labor trafficking.  Additional post in the series include: 

Shedding light: Labor Exploitation and Labor Trafficking

Am I a Victim of Labor Trafficking and Exploitation?

Rebuilding Lives and Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking

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Rebuilding Lives and Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking

labor trafficking and other forms of victimizationKeeping victims safe should be of utmost priority when tackling labor exploitation and trafficking cases. However, our current system lacks some of the fundamental tools to do just that. Those that survive exploitation and trafficking need assistance in addressing their short term and long term needs. Not only must their trauma be addressed but also the aspects of their lives that left them vulnerable to the trafficking or exploitation in the first place.

Survivors of labor trafficking have endured significant abuse. Their trafficker has complete control over their lives. The trafficker arbitrarily decides when or even if victims get paid and how much. They provide inadequate housing and seize control of any identification documents leaving victims afraid to call for help in fear of arrest or deportation. An employer having so much control over their lives deprives victims of their autonomy and sense of self. This, coupled with physical, sexual, and mental abuse, results in a long road to recovery for those that manage to escape. They need assistance in rebuilding their lives. International standards for trafficking victim protection and assistance take all of this into consideration.

Unfortunately, protection standards within the U.S are not nearly as comprehensive as international standards. There are federal and state laws offering protection from deportation, work authorization, federal public assistance, and case management assistance. However, they are hard to obtain and put an undue burden on the victim. Undermining the victim protection that they claim to provide, the laws require the cooperation of victims in criminal investigations against traffickers in order for them to receive assistance. Foreign nationals and U.S. citizens face additional challenges and neither is fully protected.

U.S. trafficking law benefits focus largely on foreign national victims. Domestic victims are often left with little resources to address their vulnerability and protect them from future trafficking. For instance, people that are barred from public assistance for any reason are unable to qualify for the benefits that so many victims require. This makes them easy targets for abusive employers and makes recovery even more difficult. Our current system offers no waiver ensuring that all U.S. citizen victims of trafficking can get assistance.

Foreign national victims may have designated protections but face challenges in accessing them. Victims must first meet an administrative definition of “trafficked” to be certified as “a victim of severe form of human trafficking. “ Once this criterion is met victims must then follow a multi-stage process to receive full benefits and protection. Federal law, in opposition to international law, requires adult victims to participate with the investigation and prosecution of the crime to receive certification and receive protections. One of the most important forms of protection for foreign national victims is protection from deportation. There are three different ways for victims to avoid deportation yet all three require that victims participate in the investigation of their trafficker. Only after they have agreed to this can they file for protection from deportation. Only children or victims with severe trauma are exempt.

In addition to linking protection with investigation cooperation, there are other shortcomings in our system. A lack of funding has left service providers without capacity to help all trafficking victims. Victims especially need a safe place to stay, but there is a general lack of housing, especially for male victims. If victims cannot find a safe place to stay in the midst of escaping their abusive employer they often find themselves with no other option than to return.

Victims of labor exploitation do not even have access to the limited protections available to victims of labor trafficking. Being recognized as a labor exploitation victim provides no financial supports, no access to benefits, and no protection from deportation, no matter how much the victim may need those things to rebuild their lives and help bring an abusive employer to justice.

The Advocates makes several recommendations in “Asking the Right Questions” to help ensure that victims of labor trafficking and exploitation receive the assistance they require.

· Policy makers should develop a statewide network so all victims of human trafficking, regardless of gender, age, or nationality, have access to services, including both existing services and new funding.

· Policy makers should amend federal law to remove the requirement that victims cooperate with law enforcement to receive services and protection from deportation.

· Policy makers should create a state law to ensure all victims of human trafficking under Minnesota law receive access to services and assistance.

· Policy makers should create a state law to ensure all victims of human trafficking under Minnesota law receive access to services and assistance.

· Policy makers should amend federal law to ensure that domestic trafficking victims who may be otherwise ineligible for public benefits can receive certification, case management, cash assistance, and other help currently available to foreign national victims.

To read all of the recommendations on better protecting victims of labor trafficking and exploitation visit “Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace.”

 

By Halimat Alawode, a 2017 graduate of St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a major in Women and International Development. During the fall of 2016, she was a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.

This post is the third in a series on labor trafficking.  Additional post in the series include: 

Shedding light: Labor Exploitation and Labor Trafficking

Am I a Victim of Labor Trafficking and Exploitation?

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Am I a victim of labor trafficking and exploitation?

BarriersAs an immigrant recruited to work in the United States, Miguel left his home and family for the better life that was promised to him. He was given a temporary visa by his employer, but nothing else was as he expected. His employer refused to pay him as promised and threatened him when he complained. Miguel had become a victim of labor trafficking and exploitation. However, instead of being promptly identified and given the help he needed, it took Miguel many tries before someone recognized him as a trafficking victim. This experience is not unique to Miguel. The Advocates for Human Rights recently released a report on human trafficking and exploitation titled, “Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace,” that examines how failing to identify trafficking and exploitation leaves victims unprotected.

Workers that are victims of human trafficking and labor exploitation are faced with many challenging barriers. One of the biggest problems is that much of the system for enforcing laws against trafficking and exploitation relies on workers stepping up and complaining of a workplace violation. However, the worker may not know that they are a victim of labor trafficking or exploitation and that they can get help. Miguel, like many others, knew that what was happening to him was not right, but he did not know that it was considered trafficking, a crime.

Workers also fear retaliation. Making the decision to complain to one’s boss or a government agency may put a worker at risk of losing their job, having their hours cut, receiving less desirable shifts, or possible deportation. Workers who are undocumented face the fear that they may be deported if they bring themselves to the attention of the authorities. Even those that are legal immigrants fear a complaint could hurt their immigration status. One worker was so fearful of being discovered as an illegal immigrant that he fled Minnesota and abandoned his case.

Given that workers may not be able to identify themselves as victims, identifying labor trafficking and exploitation falls on community organizations and government agencies. However, they too face barriers that make it difficult to identify workers as victims of labor trafficking and exploitation. One such barrier is that government agencies do not all have the necessary protocols in place to identify victims and so do not consistently recognize labor trafficked and exploited workers. In Miguel’s case, he was given an opportunity to complain when immigration officers started an investigation, but because they used the trafficker (his boss) as the interpreter he was unable to voice any of his concerns. A protocol requiring the use of independent interpreters might have prevented this.

These challenges also exist for community organizations. They may not have sufficient knowledge of trafficking to identify it correctly or an established screening process to uncover it. Organizations also face challenges in building trust with potential victims. Victims may have a trusting relationship with one employee, but not the overall institution. If that employee leaves, their connection with the victim may also be lost.

What can be done to improve identification? The Advocates for Human Rights created the following priority recommendations in order to improve the identification of labor trafficked and exploited workers:

· Provide training on labor trafficking and exploitation to government agencies and community organizations.

· Fund a statewide public awareness campaign on labor trafficking and exploitation in Minnesota.

· Create a self-assessment tool for workers to identify whether they are a victim or at risk.

· Establish a multi-agency working group to make it easier for workers to register complaints using a clear, direct, language-accessible system.

· Implement screening protocols for all federal immigration enforcement to consistently identify labor trafficked and exploited victims.

To read all of the recommendations to better identify labor trafficking and exploitation visit http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/labor_trafficking_report.

By Biftu Bussa, a student at St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota (class of 2018) with a major in Public Health and Psychology. During the fall of 2016, she was a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.

This post is the second in a series on labor trafficking.  Additional post in the series include:

Shedding light: Labor Exploitation and Labor Trafficking

Rebuilding Lives and Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking

 

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Shedding light: Labor Exploitation and Labor Trafficking

shadow dudeMost people are troubled by the thought of workers being underpaid, unsafe, or otherwise exploited, but many remain silent, discouraged by the seeming impunity for exploitive employers.

Because labor exploitation is so widespread, traffickers often operate undetected, assumed to be merely another bad employer. Trafficking is viewed as a distant crime, something that occurs in a different city, state, or country than our own. When we look closer, though, we can see that trafficking and exploitation happen here.

The Advocates recently released a report titled “Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace.” The report examines the experiences of labor trafficked and exploited victims in Minnesota, the opportunity Minnesota has to ensure that all workers, both U.S. and foreign-born, choose employment freely and are fully compensated for their work; methods and signs we all can use to detect labor trafficking and exploitation; ways in which current protections fall short; and recommendations for change.

Labor trafficking occurs when a recruiter, employer, or supervisor compels or tricks a worker into providing involuntary labor. Labor exploitation occurs when employers profit from the illegal treatment of their workers but do not exert the level of control that characterizes labor trafficking. Though both are illegal, current laws and policies do not sufficiently protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.

Labor trafficking cannot be addressed without examining labor exploitation. Labor trafficking almost always involves labor exploitation – not paying workers, forcing them to work long hours, or exposing them to unsafe conditions. These two human rights violations also occur at
high rates in the same industries.

Industries that have high rates of sub-contracting and independent contracting such as construction, have high rates of both exploitation and trafficking. Other industries where workers are isolated or highly mobile, such as domestic service, agriculture, and restaurants, have a disproportionate amount of trafficking and exploitation as well.

Traffickers and abusive employers are master manipulators that exploit the shortcomings of our worker protection system. One gap is that the linked crimes of trafficking and exploitation are handled by different systems. Labor trafficking is a crime investigated by police and FBI and prosecuted in criminal court. Labor exploitation, on the other hand, is typically handled by administrative agencies as a civil offense. To the detriment of the victims, these two systems do not always coordinate efforts, allowing perpetrators to escape prosecution.

It is easy for perpetrators to manipulate the law because they select victims that are the most vulnerable and least likely to complain. Perpetrators choose their victims from vulnerable populations such as women, those with criminal histories, youth, people with disabilities, and immigrants. Traffickers in particular then try to add to the victims’ vulnerability. Victims may be forced to participate in criminal activities, making it difficult to seek help from the police. In many situations, sexual violence is also used as a means of control.

Traffickers also use isolation as a tool against their workers by moving them to different locations, requiring they live on site, or confiscating identification such as visas to limit mobility. The trafficker creates a system of fear and dependence that makes it difficult for victims to break away.

No one should have to live in fear or without being paid what they’ve earned. Those among us that are trafficked and exploited are having their fundamental human rights violated. It is our job as a community to fight back and advocate on behalf of those that fall victim to abusive employers. In the coming weeks, The Advocates will shed light on this issue and what Minnesotans can do to protect the rights of all workers.

By Halimat Alawode, a 2017 graduate of St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a major in Women and International Development. During the fall of 2016, she was a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.

This post is the first in a series on labor trafficking.  Additional posts in the series include:

Am I a victim of labor trafficking and exploitation?

Rebuilding Lives and Protection Victims of Human Trafficking

 

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Supreme Court orders reargument in indefinite detention case

Child or woman's hand in jailLast week, the Supreme Court ordered reargument in Jennings v. Rodriguez.  The case challenges whether detention for indefinite periods of time without review defies the constitution.  

This year, there could be up to 500,000 people detained in federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers, jails, and private prisonsWhile some are detained a few weeks, others may be held for months or even years while they challenge their removal before the immigration courts and on appeal.   

 

The initial challenge to indefinite detention, Rodriguez, et al. v. Robbins, et al., was filed in 2007 at the federal district courtAlejandro Rodriguez, who had been detained for 3 years awaiting his deportation without a bond hearing, challenged the government’s authority to detain him indefinitely. The Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court’s order requiring the detainees to receive bond hearings after six months of detention and every six months following to address their detainment while pending their deportation proceedings.  

Throughout the Ninth Circuit, Rodriguez hearings have been provided regularly, resulting in the release of people from detention while they pursue their claims to remain in the United States. Following the Court’s order, people detained outside the Ninth Circuit will continue to face indefinite detention until the Court rules next year.

The Advocates for Human Rights recognizes the fundamental human rights of the rights of asylum, due process, fair deportation procedures, freedom from arbitrary detention, family unity, as well as other rights as an approach to immigration.

By Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights

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This World Refugee Day, Take a Moment to Listen to Their Stories

Among the world’s more than 22.5 million refugees are an estimated 2.8 million people seeking asylum. In the United States, asylum seekers can wait years for a hearing and even longer to reunite with their families. With no right to government-appointed counsel, adults and children alike face complicated legal proceedings alone.

Last year, The Advocates for Human Rights provided free legal assistance to nearly 1,000 refugees and their family members, including ongoing legal representation in more than 650 asylum cases.  In addition, our National Asylum Help Line has connected more than 1500 callers with legal help.

With the help of hundreds of volunteer attorneys, together with interpreters and community support volunteers, The Advocates helps protect refugees, reunite families, and ensure that no asylum seeker has to go it alone.

We commemorate World Refugee Day on June 20, 2017 by sharing some of our clients’ stories of courage and hope.  Please take five minutes to listen to their stories.  You can help us by sharing their truth.

Learn more about applying for asylum and The Advocates’ legal services here.

On World Refugee Day, please consider making a donation so that we can help more families like the ones featured in this video.   The Advocates stands #WithRefugees.

 

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Recognizing human rights leaders who are changing the world for good

statue 2 web large

The Advocates for Human Rights will present nine awards to human rights leaders at the Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 15, 2017 at the Marriott City Center in Minneapolis. The Human Rights Awards Dinner is an annual event that honors those who dedicate time, energy, and passion to advance The Advocates’ mission of changing the world for good by implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.

 

Mark Hetfield will deliver the keynote address and receive the 2017 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award. Minnesota House of Representatives Member Ilhan Omar will be honored with a Special Recognition Award; The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Rapid Response Team  will also receive the Special Recognition Award. Genoveva Tisheva will receive the first-ever Human Rights Defender Award.  In addition, Karam Law, Sarah Vander Zanden, Gerry Tyrrell, David Seng Chor, and Yorn Yan will each receive the Volunteer Awards.

Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award – Mark Hetfield

Mark Hetfield Head Shot RGBMark Hetfield is a globally recognized leader in refugee rights. He is the president and CEO of HIAS. Founded in 1881, HIAS is the world’s oldest organization dedicated to refugees. Under Hetfield’s guidance and leadership, HIAS has expanded from an organization focused on Jewish immigrants to one that assists refugees worldwide, no matter whom or where they are. HIAS stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety, and freedom. HIAS both protects and resettles refugees, all the while ensuring they are treated with the dignity they deserve. Guided by Jewish ethics and history, HIAS rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are. Hetfield has stated, “HIAS doesn’t help people because they are Jewish but because we are Jewish.”

Hetfield’s 27-year career has been largely spent in five different roles within HIAS. Between his roles at HIAS, he served as senior advisor on refugee issues at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, where he directed a congressionally-authorized study on asylum seekers in expedited removal.  This study, published in 2005, is the most comprehensive study on expedited removal to date and is still widely used today. Hetfield and his team were recognized for their work with the Arthur C. Helton Award for the Advancement of Human Rights, presented by the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He graduated cum laude with a juris doctor degree from Georgetown University, from which he also holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service.

Special Recognition Award – Ilhan Omar

Ilhan OmarIlhan Omar Head Shot RGB made national headlines when she was elected in 2016 as the Minnesota State Representative for District 60B, becoming the first Somali-American lawmaker in the United States.  She successfully campaigned on a platform with strong human rights themes, including: access to quality affordable education; criminal justice reform; a higher minimum wage; empowering women in politics; and promoting environmental sustainability.

Born in Somalia, Omar and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight. The family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States in 1995.  Omar spoke no English at first, but learned quickly.  She was inspired to enter public service after translating for her grandfather at a community political meeting at the age of 14.  After graduating from North Dakota State University, Omar has worked tirelessly for her community and the greater public good.  In addition to representing District 60B, Omar is the Director of Policy Initiatives for Women Organizing Women, a nonprofit network dedicated to empowering all women, with an emphasis on first– and second-generation immigrants, to become engaged citizens and community leaders.

Special Recognition Award – MSP Airport Rapid Response Team

When President Donald Trump signed his executive order banning people from seven msp rapid responsemajority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, thousands of attorneys around the United States turned out to protect those being denied entry. Here in Minnesota, attorney Regina Jefferies signed up to help with the International Refugee Assistance Project on Friday afternoon and by Sunday morning had messages from more than 150 lawyers willing to go to the airport. Among them were immigration attorney Kara Lynum and Robins Kaplan’s Summra Sharriff, and attorneys Melissa Staudinger, Alisha Tecli, Hayley Steptoe, Shannon Doty, Nichole Buehler, Tara Murphy, and Kevin Riach, who would become the spontaneous project’s team leads.

The team organized everything from attorneys providing direct assistance on the ground at MSP, a habeas team ready to file for anyone detained under the ban, to volunteer training and communications, and liaison with the Metropolitan Airport Commission. Within two weeks, the project grew to more than 300 attorneys and countless community members volunteering to do everything from language interpretation to bringing food to volunteers. Volunteers met every international flight to Minnesota for 6 weeks. Their work not only provided onsite help to anxious family members waiting for their loved ones to arrive. It sent an important message to federal officials that the people of this country will not sit idly by in the face of discrimination and intolerance. Their work embodies The Advocates’ mission to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.

 Human Rights Defender Award –  Genoveva Tisheva

Genoveva TishevaGenoveva Tisheva  will be presented with The Advocates’ inaugural Human Rights Defender Award. Tisheva is the executive director of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF),  a nongovernmental organization that promotes social equality and women’s human rights in Bulgaria through research, education, and advocacy programs.

Tisheva has been a leader in the international human rights movement for over twenty years. A pioneer in Bulgarian gender rights research, she has conducted research on privatization, women’s socio-economic rights, violence against women, the impact of privatization of goods and services on women, and trafficking of Romani women and children.  Tisheva has been instrumental in pushing Bulgaria to the forefront as a leader for the region on law reform related to violence against women.

The relationship between The Advocates and Tisheva extends back to 1994. At the time, Tisheva was the president of the Bulgarian Women Lawyers Association and had begun the work to secure legal reform that would protect women victims of violence and hold perpetrators accountable. The Advocates had just recently published its first report on women’s human rights titled “Lifting the Last Curtain, a Report on Domestic Violence in Romania.” Tisheva approached The Advocates about conducting fact-finding and documenting domestic violence as a human rights violation in Bulgaria. The resulting report, “Domestic Violence in Bulgaria” published in 1996, served as a blueprint for action.

For her work on behalf of women and for social rights, Tisheva was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize as part of the Project “1000 Women for Nobel Peace Prize.” Tisheva holds a M.A. in Law from Bulgaria’s Sofia University and is a specialist in international human rights law and international comparative law.

Information and tickets to the Human Rights Awards Dinner are available here.

 

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The Sanctuary Movement Case, 1985

After 19 years of practicing corporate litigation with prominent law firms in New York City and Minneapolis, I was a tabula rasa in what turned out to be important topics for me. I had no knowledge of, or interest in, international human rights law in general or refugee and asylum law in particular. Nor did I have any knowledge of, or interest in, Latin America in general or El Salvador in particular. At the same time I was struggling with the question of how to integrate my newly re-acquired Christian faith with my professional life.

In 1985 all of this started to change.

My senior partner at Faegre & Benson asked me to provide legal counsel to the firm’s client, the American Lutheran Church. The problem: how should the ALC respond to the news that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service had sent undercover agents into worship services and Bible study meetings at Lutheran and Presbyterian churches in Arizona that were involved in the Sanctuary Movement?

As I soon discovered, that Movement was a loose association of Christian congregations that declared themselves sanctuaries or safe spaces for Salvadorans and Guatemalans fleeing their civil wars in the 1980s. The news about the “spies in the churches” was revealed by the U.S. Government in its prosecution of some of the Movement’s leaders for harboring and transporting illegal aliens, some of whom were later convicted of these charges.[1]

In the meantime, the ALC and my own church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), decided to join together to sue the U.S. Government over the “spies in the churches.” Eventually the U.S. District Court in Phoenix agreed with the churches that the First Amendment’s “freedom of religion” clause[2] provided protection against certain government investigations.

The court said that the churches “in the free exercise of their constitutionally protected religious activities, are protected against governmental intrusion in the absence of a good faith purpose for the subject investigation. The government is constitutionally precluded from unbridled and inappropriate covert activity which has as its purpose or objective the abridgment of the first amendment freedoms of those involved. Additionally, the participants involved in such investigations must adhere scrupulously to the scope and extent of the invitation to participate that may have been extended or offered to them.”[3]

I should add that the courtroom work in this case was done by two lawyers at the Phoenix firm of Lewis and Roca–Peter Baird[4] and Janet Napolitano.[5]

This case marked a turning point in my legal career as will be evident in my subsequent posts Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer  and My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989.

By Duane W. Krohnke, a retired lawyer, adjunct law professor, and volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights.

[1] One of the founders of the Sanctuary Movement was Rev. John Fife of Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church. He was one of those convicted in 1986 in the criminal case. Six years later he was elected the national leader (Moderator) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)..(Wikipedia, John Fife, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Fife.)

[2] “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise [of religion].” (U.S. Const., Amend. I.)

[3] Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) v. U.S., 752 F. Supp. 1505, 1516 (D. Ariz. 1990), on remand from, 870 F.2d 518 (9th Cir. 1989).

[4] Peter Baird, http://www.lrlaw.com/files/Uploads/Documents/Baird%20Bio.pdf; Phoenix veteran attorney Peter Baird dies, Phoenix Bus. J.(Aug. 31, 2009), http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/stories/2009/08/31/daily19.html.

[5] Napolitano now, of course, is the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. (Wikipedia, Janet Napolitano, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_Napolitano.)

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Cruelty as Policy: Part Two

Child or woman's hand in jailWhat and who are behind the current wave of anti-immigrant feeling, including the cruel policy of “self-deportation” that is the subject of this two part series of articles?

It is important to acknowledge that fear of The Other is a near-universal human condition, and its causes and effects should not be oversimplified. It is also important to acknowledge the existence of elite interest groups which are currently working hard to exploit our fear of The Other and use it to advance their own agenda, an agenda aimed at keeping America a white and Christian nation.

The author of this, the second of two articles reflecting on the cruelty behind the currently ascendant hard-line anti-immigration movement, was raised in Minnesota during the fifties and sixties. Our state was then almost entirely lily white and raised in the Christian tradition. In the author’s high school class of more than 700, there were only two black students and, to the author’s knowledge, two Jewish students. Such an upbringing creates, in nearly every mind, assumptions that become part of an individual’s basic personality: a Minnesotan is automatically thought of as a white person of Christian heritage. People who don’t qualify on one or both counts may be fine folks in their way, but they are different from our concept of a Minnesotan. Carrying such assumptions in one’s mind doesn’t by itself make a person hateful or evil, but it can have consequences on a person’s beliefs and actions that might not be recognized. The assumptions brand our fellow human beings as The Other.

Recognizing that this non-diverse state of affairs once existed in many parts of the country, and still exists in many rural areas and small towns, may help explain the current rise of anti-immigrant sentiment, a recurring wave that has swept the United States several times in its history and has always been regretted afterward. Census data tells us that if current trends continue, the U.S. population will, for the first time, be “majority minority” by 2044. To some people, consciously or unconsciously, this means The Other is taking over, and that can be frightening.

There are elites who seek to whip up such fear, and organize and manage it for their own purposes. In particular, there is a cadre of organizations that are dedicated to a hard-line anti-immigration policy and that promote the cruel concept of “self-deportation” discussed in the previous article in this series. These organizations seek to display the appearance of broad-based support, but in fact were founded by or descended from the efforts of one man, John Tanton, and have been funded primarily by a small number of wealthy donors. (See Intelligence Report, “JOHN TANTON IS THE MASTERMIND BEHIND THE ORGANIZED ANTI-IMMIGRATION MOVEMENT,” Southern Poverty Law Center; Jason DeParle, “The Anti-Immigration Crusader,New York Times; and “Funders of the Anti-Immigrant Movement,” Anti-Defamation League.)

They include the Federation for American Immigration Reform (“FAIR”); the Immigration Reform Law Institute (“IRLI”); the Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”); Numbers USA; ProEnglish; U.S.English; the Social Contract Press and, the funding organization, U.S. Inc. Representatives of these organizations frequently lobby legislators, publish “think pieces,” do grass roots organizing on anti-immigrant themes, appear in the media and promulgate agendas for anti-immigrant actions by governments and private actors.

The man initially behind these groups, John Tanton, is a retired Michigan ophthalmologist who was president of Zero Population Growth from 1975 to 1977. (See johntanton.org, a pro-Tanton website that describes him as a “Pro-immigrant spokesperson for population stabilization and immigration reduction.”)  His passions moved from global overpopulation to immigration and he founded FAIR in 1979. He was a fan of a 1973 novel by Frenchman Jean Raspail called The Camp of the Saints, an overtly racist fantasy in which hordes of sub-human non-whites overwhelm Europe and North America because liberal pansies in the affected governments lack the will to stop them.  Tanton’s Social Contract Press arranged for the re-publication of this novel in the United States in 1995, with money from Mellon heiress Cordelia Scaife May, who also funded a previous U.S. appearance of the novel. Tanton himself was quoted in the New York Times as having written to a friend, “For European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” 

It is a promising time for the hard-line anti-immigrant elites.  A former executive director of FAIR, Julie Kirchner, is now an advisor to the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Jon Feere, a former CIS policy analyst, now works for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Steve Bannon, strategy advisor to the President, has repeatedly referred to The Camp of the Saints in describing his thoughts on immigration policy.  Their thinking permeates actions and attitudes displayed by the current administration.

In such times, it is more critical than ever that human rights defenders such as The Advocates ceaselessly fight to implement national and international laws protecting refugees, and promote the application of a human rights framework to immigration policy.

To minimize the extent to which fear of The Other exists in this country, and in all the world, would be a mistake. But it would also be a mistake to ignore the wealthy elites who use that fear to support an agenda to keep America white.

Another Minnesotan, a Jew raised in a white Christian town in the northern part of the state, wrote a song after the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. It was called “Only A Pawn in their Game.” Bob Dylan caused some controversy with the song, which seemed to mitigate the fault of Evers’ murderer, but Dylan’s point was that the racism of poor whites was being manipulated by elites with an agenda of their own. As is often the case with Dylan, the lyrics sound with considerable force today.

He’s taught in his school

From the start by the rule

That the laws are with him

To protect his white skin

To keep up his hate

So he never thinks straight

‘Bout the shape that he’s in

But it ain’t him to blame

He’s only a pawn in their game

Bob Dylan, “Only a Pawn in their Game”

 

By James O’Neal, volunteer attorney and Vice Chair of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Board of Directors.

Read the first article Cruelty as Policy: Part One here.

 

 

 

Nine Things Everyone Needs To Know About International LGBTI Rights

FeaturedNine Things Everyone Needs To Know About International LGBTI Rights

 

IFEDIDAHOT_KeyVisual_2017_EN.png

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). Created in 2004 to raise awareness about the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally, it has become a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities. The date of May 17 was chosen specifically to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year, IDAHOT’s theme focuses on families. This focus includes both the role of families in the well-being of their LGBTI members, as well as respect for the rights of LGBTI families (rainbow families).  Given the proximity in dates and values of the  International Family Equality Day (IFED) in early May, this year IFED and IDAHOT were combined for joint recognition and celebration.

In honor of IDAHOT 2017, we put together a list of nine basic things that everyone needs to know about international LGBTI rights.

1.

Internationally, the acronyms LGBT and LGBTI

(standing for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and

intersex”) are the most commonly used terms.

While many understand the meaning of the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual, some may be unfamiliar with the other terms. As defined by the United Nations’ Free & Equal Campaign, transgender (sometimes shortened to “trans”) is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of identities — including transsexual people, cross-dressers, people who identify as third gender, and others whose appearance and characteristics are perceived as gender atypical. Some transgender people seek surgery or take hormones to bring their body into alignment with their gender identity; others do not. An intersex person is born with sexual anatomy, reproductive organs, and/or chromosome patterns that do not fit the typical definition of male or female. An intersex person may identify as male or female or as neither. Intersex status is not about sexual orientation or gender identity: intersex people experience the same range of sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI) as non-intersex people.

It is worth noting that other terms are also used when talking about LGBTI rights. In many countries, the term MSM (“men who have sex with men”) is also used, particularly in the public health context of the fight against HIV/AIDS. MSM is also used in recognition of the fact that some men engaged in same-sex relations may not identify as gay or bisexual. Different cultures also have their own terms to describe people who form same-sex relationships and those who exhibit non-binary gender identities (such as hijra, meti, lala, skesana, motsoalle, mithli, kuchu, kawein, muxé, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, hamjensgara and Two-Spirit).

2.

SOGI stands for “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

As the UN states, sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction towards other people. Sexual orientation is not related to gender identity. Gender identity reflects a deeply felt and experienced sense of one’s own gender. For transgender people, there is an inconsistency between their sense of their own gender and the sex they were assigned at birth.

3.

Private, consensual same-sex conduct

is a crime in at least 76 countries.

Because of these discriminatory laws, millions of LGBTI persons around the world face the risk of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment every day. And in as many as 10 countries, same-sex acts can be punished with the death penalty.

Laws that criminalize private, consensual sexual relationships between adults violate the rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination under international law. In addition to violating these basic rights, criminalization legitimizes prejudice in society at large and exposes people to hate crimes, police abuse, torture and family violence. The Advocates’ partner organization LGBT Voice Tanzania has reported that because Tanzania criminalizes homosexual conduct, police officers harass, abuse, and demean LGBTI people with impunity, and often disregard complaints brought by LGBTI persons about harassment from others. Police routinely use violence and coercion against the LGBTI community, including torture, blackmail, corrective rape, detention without charge, and arbitrary charges. Many are forced to bribe officers to get out of jail for these arbitrary charges.

Further, criminalization hampers efforts to halt the spread of HIV by deterring LGBT people from coming forward for testing and treatment for fear of revealing criminal activity.

4.

LGBTI people and rights are not a Western export.

LGBTI people exist everywhere — in all countries, among all ethnic groups, at all socioeconomic levels, and in all communities. Further, global archeological and anthropological evidence — from prehistoric rock paintings in South Africa and Egypt to ancient Indian medical texts and early Ottoman literature — show that LGBTI people have always been a part of our communities. In fact in many parts of the world, it was Western colonial powers that imposed the criminal laws that punish same-sex conduct.

Click on the interactive map below that shows how colonization spread homophobic legislation to many parts of the world.

map for blog

5.

Some countries are passing “gay propaganda” laws

and other discriminatory laws that limit the rights

to free speech, freedom of association, and assembly.

In 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law Federal Law 135, banning propaganda to minors about “non-traditional sexual relations.” Article 3(2)(b) of Federal Law 135 imposes administrative fines and, in the case of non-citizens, deportation, for:

Propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors, including

distribution of information that intends minors to adopt non-traditional

sexual orientations, that makes non-traditional sexual relations attractive,

that presents distorted conceptions of the social equivalence of traditional

and non-traditional sexual relations, or that imposes information about non-traditional sexual relations that evokes interest in these relations.

The vague language describing the prohibited conduct and the steep fines that escalate for individuals who distribute their “propaganda” on the internet are designed to chill speech and stifle any efforts to provide support to LGBTI youth in Russia.

Nearly identical proposals have been introduced throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with proposals currently are under discussion in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Lithuania and Indonesia.

6.

LGBTI persons around the world

experience widespread violence.

While official data on international homophobic and transphobic violence is difficult to obtain, the information that is available shows a clear pattern of widespread, brutal violence, often committed with impunity. Human rights violations experienced by LGBTI persons can include violent attacks, ranging from aggressive verbal abuse and psychological bullying to physical assault, beatings, torture, kidnapping and targeted killings. Sexual abuse and violence is also common, sometimes at the hands of the police. While violence can be perpetrated by individuals or groups and takes place in both public and private spaces, a common characteristic of many anti-LGBT hate crimes is their brutality. The torture and murder of Cameroonian activist Eric Ohena Lembembe in July 2013 is just one example, but one that hits close to home for The Advocates for Human Rights. Shortly before he was murdered, we partnered with Eric and his organization CAMFAIDS to write a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Cameroon.

7.

LGBTI persons around the world experience

discriminatory treatment every day, in workplaces,

schools, family homes, and health care settings.

In Tanzania, for example, LGBTI youth are expelled from school simply because of actual or suspected sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of these youth are also rejected by their families and are left to fend for themselves. Anti-LGBTI discrimination in the health sector includes denial of service, verbal harassment and abuse, and violations of confidentiality, all justified by the criminalization of same-sex conduct. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in 2015 that national laws in most countries do not provide adequate protection from employment-related discrimination on grounds of SOGI, allowing employers to fire or refuse to hire or promote people simply because they are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Map 2 for blog

Discrimination has a tremendous personal cost for those who experience it. Rates of poverty, homelessness, depression and suicide are far higher among LGBT people than in the general population. But the UN Free and Equal Campaign  argues that we all pay a price: a study of 39 countries showed that the marginalization of the LGBT community was causing a substantial loss of potential economic output. “Every LGBT child thrown out of home and forced to miss out on education is a loss for society. Every LGBT worker denied their rights is a lost opportunity to build a fairer and more productive economy.”

8.

International law protects LGBTI rights.

The right to equality and non-discrimination are core human rights principles included in the United Nations Charter, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and all multilateral human rights treaties. The equality and non-discrimination guarantee provided by international human rights law applies to ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity or “other status.”

According to the United Nations, governments have core legal obligations to protect the human rights of LGBT people, including obligations to:

Protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence and prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Countries should enact hate crime laws that discourage violence against individuals based on sexual orientation, and set up effective systems for reporting hate motivated acts of violence, including effectively investigating, and prosecuting perpetrators, bringing those responsible to justice. They should provide training to law enforcement officers and monitor places of detention, and provide a system for victims to seek remedies. Additionally, asylum laws and policies should recognize that persecution based on sexual orientation may be a valid basis for an asylum claim.

Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality including all legislation that criminalizes private sexual conduct between consenting adults. Ensure that individuals are not arrested or detained on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and are not subjected to any degrading physical examinations intended to determine their sexual orientation.

Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Enact legislation that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Provide education and training to prevent discrimination and stigmatization of LGBT and intersex people.

Safeguard freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all LGBT people and ensure that any restrictions on these rights – even where such restrictions purport to serve a legitimate purpose and are reasonable and proportionate in scope – are not discriminatory on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Promote a culture of equality and diversity that encompasses respect for the rights of LGBT people.

9.

You can take action to support LGBTI rights in

your community and around the world.

May 17 is the single most important annual date for global LGBTI mobilization and awareness raising. Research has shown that 17% of all annual discussions on Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia are generated around the IDAHOT. Those discussions are happening in almost every country in the world. Please share this article and others that raise awareness about LGBTI rights on social media.

Learn more about The Advocates for Human Rights’ work on LGBTI rights here. Read Staff attorney Amy Bergquist’s article about our strategies in “Moving Forward: Four Steps and Six Strategies For Promoting LGBTI Rights Around the World.”

By: Jennifer Prestholdt, The Advocates for Human Rights’ deputy director, and director of its International Justice Program. 

Learn more about #IDAHOT and ways to take action here.

We all need to keep keeping fighting for the rights of LGBTI persons, wherever they are in the world! In 2016, the UN Free & Equal Campaign released this inspiring video “Why We Fight” of courageous LGBTI activists and allies around the world and the rights that they are fighting for.

More posts by The Advocates for Human Rights on international  LGBTI rights:

Anti-LGBTI Discrimination Harms Efforts to Fight HIV/AIDS

African Commission Urges Cameroon to End LGBTI Discrimination

Leading By Example: The International Impact of Marriage Equality Ruling

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

“Look at the details of Eric Ohena Lembembe’s life and you will understand why he died.”

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for LGBTI Rights in Africa

Recent Anti-LGBTI Laws Violate Human Rights

Out in the Cold: LGBT Visibility at Olympics Key to Ending Homophobia

Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law: How U.S. Extremists are Fueling the Fight Against LGBTI Rights

Locking the Iron Closet: Russia’s Propaganda Law Isolates Vulnerable LGBTI Youth

The Wild East: Vigilante Violence against LGBTI Russians

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“During Apartheid, we were not white enough to enjoy our full human rights, and now, we are not black enough.”

South African laws and practices have discriminated against the minority Coloured community, especially their economic, social and cultural rights with respect to employment and housing, as well as the right to freedom of expression. The Advocates for Human Rights, along with our partner organization Camissa Movement for Equality, went to the United Nations Human Rights Council to raise our concerns in advance of South Africa’s Universal Periodic Review on May 10, 2017.

South African human rights defender Jerome Lottering presented this oral statement on behalf of The Advocates for Human Rights and Camissa Movement for Equality at the United Nations Human Rights Council on 22 March 2017.

Mr. [Vice] President

The Advocates for Human Rights, in collaboration with Camissa Movement, would like to thank the Council for its attention to mainstreaming human rights into public policies and to monitoring their implementation. As noted in the High Commissioner’s report, “leaving no one behind should be a key principle in the design and implementation of national policies.”

South Africa’s laws are designed to promote the human rights of the black population through affirmative action. In practice, however, these laws exclude the coloured people of South Africa. Coloured people are a distinct ethnic group of mixed race individuals. The legislation only refers to “black” people as a group. This allows stakeholders to only apply laws to black persons, thus excluding the coloured population from the very laws intended to help them. These laws and other policies are curtailing the human rights of coloured people to education, employment, and housing.

During Apartheid, we were not white enough to enjoy our full human rights, and now, we are not black enough. Even though laws are designed to affirmatively promote the rights of black people, they discriminate against the coloured people in practice. South Africa needs tools to monitor the implementation of laws, including a data tracking system with separate indicators for black, white, and coloured populations. We urge South Africa to monitor the implementation of its laws to avoid unintended consequences and safeguard the human rights of all persons, including the Coloured people of South Africa.

Thank you.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of South Africa will take place on Wednesday, May 10, from 14:30-18:00 in Geneva, Switzerland.  The UPR session will be webcast live at this link: http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/30th-regular-session-of-the-human-rights-council/4473498400001.  )Later that day it will be posted in the archives of UN WebTV: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/) The Advocates will be livetweeting the recommendations made to South Africa on Twitter @The_Advocates.

The Advocates for Human Rights, along with partner organization Camissa Movement for Equality and Mondé World Films, submitted a UPR stakeholder report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 that addresses South Africa’s failure to protect the rights of minority group members. South African laws and practices have discriminated against the Coloured community, especially their economic, social and cultural rights with respect to employment and housing, as well as the right to freedom of expression.  The report makes recommendations that steps be taken to reduce and/or eliminate such discriminatory treatment of Coloured people in South Africa. Such steps include reform in the use of “target” percentages in employment plans, investigation into discrimination in subsidized housing application, and equal access to state media.

Read more about discrimination against the Coloured people of South Africa in the joint submission of The Advocates for Human Rights, Camissa Movement for Equality and Mondé World Films to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

 

 

 

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Uncovering hidden obstacles to the rights of persons with disabilities in Iran

IMG_3551The Advocates for Human Rights offers volunteers a remarkable and rewarding breadth of opportunities to effect change around the world. As an example, I recently had a chance to advocate for the rights of Iranians with disabilities when I traveled to Geneva, Switzerland with The Advocates to lobby the United Nations Human Rights Council on a variety of human rights issues.

A Persian Proverb says “A blind person who sees is better than a seeing person who is blind”:  Uncovering hidden obstacles to the rights of persons with disabilities in Iran.

Iran Under Review by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was considering the  initial report submitted by Iran since its adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. In its report, and its opening remarks to the Committee, Iran painted a rosy picture of its progress in removing obstacles and providing greater equality and support for persons with disabilities.

Even without digging beneath the surface, though, the language of those documents displayed a continuing view that persons with disabilities are lesser beings. The State reported as an accomplishment, for example, that premarital genetic testing is required for all couples in Iran “in order to prevent the birth of children with disabilities.”

It is difficult to assess thoroughly the status of human rights in Iran because of the lack of independent civil society or non-governmental organizations (NGOs, like The Advocates) working on the ground there. Instead, Iran has what are called “GONGOs,” for “government-organized non-governmental organizations.” GONGOs often purport to act as watchdogs, but in reality they are mechanisms of the State. Members of our group were actively pursued and questioned by an Iranian GONGO whose representatives were very interested in finding out what we planned to tell the CRPD.

 Persons with Disabilities and the Death Penalty 

Despite the difficulties, The Advocates were able to identify and report on several specific areas of concern.  They presented to the CRPD a shadow report that addressed issues related to the justice system. Iran provides no procedural safeguards in its death penalty process for individuals with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities. Those familiar with U.S. death penalty law know that there is a significant body of case law addressing the execution of defendants with such disabilities, including a number of Supreme Court decisions. The Advocates urged the CRPD to recommend that Iran suspend its death penalty for people with these disabilities, and take steps to ensure proper safeguards in future cases. While opposing the death penalty in all instances, The Advocates sought a recommendation that the law not provide lesser punishments for crimes against victims with disabilities.

Private Briefings and Public Hearings

I attended an interesting private briefing, during which The Advocates’ Amy Bergquist provided members of the CRPD with details on Iran’s use of amputation as a punishment for certain crimes, such as theft.  Examples were given of the amputation of fingers, hands or feet, and the use of chemical blinding.  The defendant may not have any disabilities when the sentence is given, but is left afterward with a disability imposed by the government. Since defendants are often poor and lack education, this likely leaves them with little ability to find work.  The stigma associated with this visible disability and its well-understood origin put the individual at a severe disadvantage for life.

I was also able to attend public hearings at which Iran’s delegation responded to a list of issues and concerns raised by the CRPD. Some of the questions touched on issues discussed at our earlier private briefing. Most of the answers were vague and circular, providing little in the way of actual facts and data, despite specific requests for these, or evidence of progress.  There was a great deal of talk about meetings, trainings, brochures and pamphlets, and more meetings, but seemingly little in the way of concrete results. Some CRPD members pointedly remarked on the lack of answers.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

The outcomes of the process, the CRPD’s “concluding observations”  were published in April. I was pleased to see that the CRPD included concerns and recommendations on issues that had been raised by The Advocates, as well as on LGBT rights.  The CRPD’s stated concerns included “the enforcement of mutilation as a form of criminal sentence, and the stigmatization against persons who have impairment as a consequence of such punishment,” as raised in our private briefing.

The CRPD also noted that “persons with disabilities, particularly persons with psychosocial and/or intellectual disabilities may be at risk of facing a greater risk of death penalty due to lack of procedural accommodations, in criminal proceedings,” as addressed in The Advocates’ shadow report.

The CRPD also expressed concern about “discrimination against persons perceived to have a disability, including on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation, being forced to undergo medical treatment.”

One of the lessons of this work has been the need for and value of patience. UN treaty bodies like the CRPD can’t simply order a country to change its conduct. The language of international diplomacy sometimes seems, to a newcomer like me, less strong than it ought to be. But participants in the process understand expressions of “concern” to indicate that the requirements of the convention are, in the CRPD’s opinion, not being upheld. Accompanying recommendations for resolving these concerns will be the subject of thorough review in the future, and Iran will be required to account for its implementation of, or failure to implement them.

International scrutiny, and international pressure, can change the course of a country’s conduct as the flow of water erodes rock and changes a river’s course. The change is incremental, but real and lasting.

By Lisa Borden, Birmingham-based Pro Bono Shareholder at Baker Donelson where her own pro bono legal work focuses on representation of indigent death row inmates in post-conviction proceedings.  Ms. Borden volunteers with The Advocates for Human Rights’ International Justice Program and traveled to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates’ team in March 2017 and March 2015.

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Hate groups, incidents proliferating in U.S., The Advocates tells UN Human Rights Council

The increase in hate groups in the United States and the rise in incidents targeting migrants, refugees, and other groups were the focus of an oral statement made to the United Nations Human Rights Council by The Advocates for Human Rights.  The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt delivered the following oral statement on March 17, 2017 during the Human Rights Council’s debate on racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration.

Mr. President:

The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the rise in incidents targeting migrants, refugees, and racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the United States, as well as the proliferation of hate groups.  Of greatest concern, however, is that some who have actively supported racist and xenophobic positions have assumed powerful leadership and advisory roles in the executive branch, lending an air of legitimacy to those views.

Recent changes to immigration policy raise serious concerns about racial and national origin profiling by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE “deports by attrition” by making undocumented migrants fearful of remaining in the U.S. Indeed, ICE arrests have increased sharply and we have received numerous reports of people being taken into custody outside courtrooms, in vehicles, and at their homes.

Local law enforcement has turned over thousands to ICE following traffic stops or other encounters. To facilitate removal, ICE routinely interrogates these migrants without counsel, intimidating them into agreeing to be deported without a hearing. An estimated 75% of deportees waive all legal rights, including claims to asylum, protection under CAT, and claims based on family unity.

These policies erode trust between immigrants and law enforcement, a trust many communities have worked to build in the interest of public safety.  Yet the administration’s January 25 executive order on domestic immigration enforcement would bar federal funding to jurisdictions that adopt community policing policies.

The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the profiling and religious discrimination inherent in the administration’s most recent attempt to ban entry of people from 6 majority-Muslim countries and to halt the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. People who are or are perceived to be Muslim report facing additional scrutiny upon entry into the U.S. and their family members living abroad face an uncertain future.

The Advocates for Human Rights encourages the Human Rights Council to keep this issue at the forefront of its agenda.  Further, we call on all Member States, including the United States, to honor non-refoulement obligations and ensure that national immigration policies, as well as law enforcement practices, do not discriminate based on race, national origin or other status.

Thank you.

 

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Welcome Home Blog Series:  Providing opportunities for Cambodians in Minnesota, honoring survivors of the Khmer Rouge

This is the second in the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota. Additional articles can be found here.

UCAM flags

Minnesotans celebrated the Cambodian New Year in April at a day-long event in Mendota Heights featuring live music, drums, traditional dances, and Cambodian cuisine.

But those festivities bracketed a more solemn activity, an annual “Day of Remembrance” to honor victims of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. This year, the ceremony paid tribute to survivors who worked with the Advocates for Human Rights to provide information about human-rights abuses for submission to a war crimes tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia (ECCC).

UCAM

Each received a Certificate of Recognition for telling their stories, a process that allowed them to put their experiences on the record.

 

 

Many Cambodians keep their memories bottled up, which is not healthy, says Yorn Yan, executive director of the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota (UCAM), which worked with the Advocates on the project. So he tells them: “Number one, you document your own story, then you feel better.” Second, “Then your document will stay with you forever and your children, your grandchildren will see it, it’s not a fake story. That’s a benefit for society in general.”

Yorn Yan’s father was among an estimated 1.7 million to 2.2 million Cambodians killed by the Khmer Rouge during their 1975-1979 reign. He fled to Thailand after the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1978 and eventually made his way to Minnesota, along with three brothers, two sisters, and their mother.

UCAM, which sponsored the New Year’s event at its offices, is a nonprofit that aims to promote opportunity for the state’s Cambodian community, which numbers about 10,000. UCAM was created in 1993 from the merger of two existing Cambodian organizations. Yorn Yan has been executive director since 2005, taking the reins after it suffered a crisis.  He has a master’s degree in nonprofit management and administration, is author of the book New Americans, New Promise: A Guide to the Refugee Journey in America, and board president of the National American Cambodian Organization.

UCAM has nine employees but gets support from 300 volunteers, including a number of medical and mental-health professionals, and serves about 1,500 clients a year. Funding comes from the Greater Twin Cities United Way and the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging.

It gets half of its revenue from fees for services provided by its Adult Day Care program, which offers health, social, and other services to Cambodian elders. Many of them are in poor health from the strains of living through civil war, the Khmer Rouge, and life in refugee camps. They have high rates of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, mental health problems, and other chronic diseases that lead to strokes and heart attacks.

The Khmer Rouge era began just 42 years ago, Yorn Yan says, so many people age 50 or above continue to suffer trauma.  “The starvation, the killing, the loss of loved ones, all of those bring poor health,” he says.

UCAM’s other programs are Elder Independent Living, Youth Development, Health Education, and  Immigration. Under a five-year strategic plan it adopted in 2015, the organization is working to transition from one whose primary function was refugee resettlement to one that works to strengthen health, social, education, and economic opportunities for Cambodians and other refugee groups in Minnesota. One of its goals: develop new programs to help second- and third-generation Minnesota Cambodians understand their cultural values and traditions while still providing services for the elders.

When asked about main challenges, Yorn Yan says UCAM is trying to “do more with less” since the demand for services remains strong but federal and state funding has shrunk over the years.

The Advocates’ work with the Cambodian community began in 1990 when the organization helped conduct a mock trial at the Minnesota State Capitol of the Khmer Rouge leadership for the crime of genocide. The mock trial led to the Khmer Oral History Project, during which The Advocates’ volunteers interviewed 15 members of the Cambodian refugee community on videotape about their experiences during the years of the genocide, their experiences in refugee camps, and their emigration to the United States. Those interviews took place in 1992 and are available online at the Minnesota History Center. This year, the Center for Justice and Accountability asked The Advocates to interview participants in the Khmer Oral History Project and submit their information to the ECCC. The Advocates also worked with UCAM to identify Khmer Rouge survivors interested in sharing their information with the ECCC.

Twenty-two members of the Cambodian diaspora in Minnesota, including many who had participated in the mock trial and oral history project, provided detailed information about the crimes they experienced between 1975 and 1979 for the ECCC’s investigation. The interviews were conducted by James O’Neal, vice chair of The Advocates; Jennifer Prestholdt, deputy director; and Amy Bergquist, International Justice Program staff attorney. They were aided by volunteer translator David Chor.

David Chor and Yorn Yan of UCAM will be recognized for their contributions to documenting the stories of survivors of the Khmer Rouge in Minnesota’s Cambodian community with volunteer awards at The Advocates’ Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 15, 2017.

UNITED CAMBODIAN ASSOCIATION OF MINNESOTA
Website: http://ucamn.org/
Email: info@ucamn.org
Volunteer opportunities: The group welcomes volunteers, especially with legal or medical credentials. Contact Yorn Yan at YornYan @comcast.net.

By Suzanne Perry, volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights.  This is the second in the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota.  The first article highlighted the contributions of the Karen Organization of Minnesota.

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India’s failure to protect religious minorities

India is the world’s largest democracy and a pluralistic melting pot of different religions, cultures, and languages. Yet there has been an alarming rise in discrimination and violence against religious minorities in India. The Advocates for Human Rights, along with our partner organizations, went to the United Nations Human Rights Council to raise our concerns in advance of India’s Universal Periodic Review on May 4, 2017.

Indian human rights defender Teesta Setalvad presented this oral statement on religious minorities in India at the United Nations Human Rights Council on behalf of The Advocates for Human Rights, Citizens for Justice and Peace, Indian American Muslim Council, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, and the Quill Foundation.  The oral statement was made on March 15, 2017 at the Human Rights Council’s Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues. 

The Advocates for Human Rights, along with its partner organizations Indian American Muslim Council, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, Citizens for Justice and Peace, and the Quill Foundation, commend the Special Rapporteur for her report. We thank her for her work over her six-year tenure.

We recall the Special Rapporteur’s 2013 General Assembly report, and the first pillar of minority rights protection: protection of a minority’s survival by combatting violence against its members. We note the following developments in India since the 2013 report:

First, communal violence has increased. In 2013, for example, in Muzaffarnagar, Muslims were overwhelmingly targeted, resulting in over 60 deaths. Speeches by political leaders and Members of Parliament encouraged attacks on Muslims and exacerbated the violence.

Second, state governments are slow to intervene against the targeting of religious minorities accused of “improper” conversions from Hinduism.

Third, since 2015, in the wake of state laws banning the sale of beef, mobs have attacked people alleged to have beef in their possession.

Fourth, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions reported that extrajudicial encounter killings “have become virtually a part of unofficial State policy” in India.

Fifth, the above acts often are committed with impunity, stemming in part from close alignment between the government and non-state actors.

Sixth, law enforcement agencies fabricate terrorism cases, where Muslims are often targets.

For these reasons, we agree with the Special Rapporteur that progress in minority rights protection is under threat, including by increasing hate speech, xenophobic rhetoric, and incitement to hatred against minorities. We add that such threats come, in part, from elected officials and Members of Parliament.

The Advocates for Human Rights and its partner organizations call on India to accept a visit by the Special Rapporteur. We also join the Special Rapporteur in calling on UN Member States and the Human Rights Council to recognize that States bear the primary duty to protect the security of religious minorities with positive and preventive actions, through active engagement with religious minorities.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India will take place on Thursday, May 4, from 14:30-18:00 in Geneva, Switzerland.  The UPR session will be webcast live at this link: http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/30th-regular-session-of-the-human-rights-council/4473498400001.  )Later that day it will be posted in the archives of UN WebTV: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/) The Advocates will be livetweeting the recommendations made to India on Twitter @The_Advocates.

The Advocates for Human Rights, along with partners the Indian American Muslim Council, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, Citizens for Justice and Peace, and the Quill Foundation, submitted a UPR stakeholder report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 that addresses India’s failure to comply with its international human rights obligations to protect members of minority groups. In particular, the report calls attention to serious problems with the treatment of Muslims in India. Significant human rights challenges include: extrajudicial executions committed by police and security personnel, as well as non-State actors; arbitrary and unlawful detentions; torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of terrorism suspects in police custody; discriminatory laws and practices; harassment of human rights defenders; as well as the targeting of NGOs through prohibitive legislation. Additionally, this report highlights the Indian government’s failure to adequately investigate and effectively prosecute perpetrators of these human rights violations against members of minority groups. You can read the full report here.

Our Work: Eradicating Violence Against Women

Our Work: Eradicating Violence Against Women

Kofi Annan said this when he was secretary-general of the United Nations:

Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. And, it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.

Think about that: the most pervasive violation of human rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights, through our Women’s Human Rights Program—and indeed through all of our programs—has a proud history of standing up for women and fighting against gender discrimination and violence. We are fighting at every level.

In the immediate term, we help make women safe by bringing their asylum claims to get them away from their abusers and away from the governments that refuse to protect them.

We also help at the level of changing bad laws. In North Africa, we helped bring about the repeal of laws in Morocco and Tunisia that had allowed rapists to escape prosecution if they married their victims. We also were instrumental in getting Mongolia to make domestic violence a crime for the first time in its history, and in getting Croatia to recriminalize domestic violence after the government had actually taken it out of the criminal code.

Finally, we know that laws are of little use if they aren’t enforced, so we help at the level of monitoring and education. Here in Minnesota, we educated law enforcement and licensing personnel about sex trafficking, leading to a whole new focus on prosecuting the traffickers rather than the victims of trafficking. Because of this work, more than 20 different Minneapolis businesses that were fronts for sex trafficking were identified and closed.

But we all know how much more must be done. Beating and torture of domestic partners is still too often, in too many places, thought of as a family matter, and governments won’t intervene. Vladimir Putin’s Russia has decriminalized domestic violence just as Croatia did, and is also targeting and successfully shutting down human rights organizations there by claiming they are spies.

Then, of course, there is our own country, which has proclaimed by attorney general fiat that even horrendous domestic violence without government recourse should not be grounds for asylum, arresting and jailing, with “zero tolerance,” adult refugees and their children who present at our borders with a legal claim to asylum—people whose only “crime” was to flee beatings or rape or torture and seek a better life in America.

We have to help all women who suffer violence and abuse, but we cannot do our work without your help. Our budget is tiny compared to the impact we’ve had. That’s because our model is to bring the extraordinary resources of our community, including many of the best and the brightest activists and lawyers, to achieve far more than our small size and budget suggest that we could. The only thing that limits us is having the resources to train, coordinate and support even more of this amazing talent.

Many of us see the horrific things on the news and ask ourselves, “What can I do?” Here are two things you can do right now. First, call your Congressional representative to express your outrage over what our country is doing at the border.

Second, go to www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org and make a financial donation to the Advocates. Now is the time to step up, pull out your checkbook or credit card, give a little more than you thought you would, respond to the call. Speaking personally, I know from direct experience and observation, there is no better place for my family to focus our financial giving than this shining Minnesota beacon of hope called The Advocates for Human Rights.

If you look at the news and ask yourself “What can I do?” that’s what you can do and you can do it now.

By James A. O’Neal, Chair, Board of Directors, the Advocates for Human Rights

This post paraphrases remarks given by Mr. O’Neal at the Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 21, 2018.